Met Tower Marking Law Passes in South Dakota

Agricultural Aviation, May/June 2010

Aerial applicators in South Dakota got some welcome news on March 26, 2010, when Gov. Mike Rounds signed House Bill 1155 into law, an act that requires the marking of certain anemometer towers used for wind energy testing purposes. The South Dakota Aviation Association (SDAA) has been working on the issue of met tower marking for two years.

Bryan Hauschild, president of SDAA and owner of Otter Aviation Inc. in Fergus Falls, Minn., carried the torch on the industry’s behalf. Hauschild worked with State Rep. Jason Frerichs on the legislation and testified before the South Dakota House Commerce Committee. He had previously testified about the hazards of unmarked met towers before the South Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

It is hard to avoid something if you don’t know it’s there in the first place, which is why Hauschild calls unmarked met towers “the most imminent threat” to aerial applicators’ safety today.

South Dakota’s new law mandates that any meteorological testing tower 50 feet or taller located outside the boundaries of a municipality shall be marked, painted, flagged or otherwise constructed “to be recognizable in clear air during daylight hours.” The marking requirements apply to the met tower, guy wires and accessory facilities. Specifically:

  1. The top one-third of the anemometer tower must be painted in equal, alternating bands of aviation orange and white, beginning with orange at the top of the tower and ending with orange at the bottom of the marked portion of the tower;
  2. Two marker balls must be attached to and evenly spaced on each of the outside guy wires;
  3. The area surrounding each point where a guy wire is anchored to the ground must have a contrasting appearance with any surrounding vegetation;
  4. One or more seven-foot safety sleeves must be placed at each anchor point and shall extend from the anchor point along each guy wire attached to the anchor point.

HB 1155 originally sought to create an online registry of meteorological testing towers in the state, but that measure was tabled in the House Commerce Committee due to concerns from the wind industry. Frerichs went back to the drawing board and decided to push for required marking after working with a group of stakeholders that included representatives from the aerial application and wind industries, South Dakota Aeronautics Commission and state assembly.

Hauschild is happy with the overall outcome, even though aerial applicators didn’t get everything they wanted. “We gave up a lot to keep the bill going and the wind industry took a lot,” he said. “I feel it was a good compromise, although being part of the working group I know that all facets of aviation safety were not addressed in this bill. … After the amended bill was brought forward one of the House Commerce Committee persons said, ‘This is how it’s supposed to work.’ ”

The marking requirements go into effect immediately for new met towers erected in South Dakota. Companies have one year to bring preexisting met towers into compliance.

Some wind energy developers have balked at the cost, which is one of the reasons lighting was not required in the bill. Failure to comply with the new marking standards will result in a Class 2 misdemeanor. The penalty typically involves a small fine.

It remains to be seen how well the new law will be enforced in South Dakota. That could be a moot point, however, since companies generally seek to limit their liability for negligence. Wind developers that ignore the law could be on the hook for damages that far exceed the cost of compliance if an aviation accident or fatality occurs as a result of an unmarked met tower.

“SDAA’s goal of being proactive today hopefully will mean all of us are active in this industry tomorrow with the goal of no met tower accidents or fatalities,” Hauschild said.

SDAA also is concerned about the placement of wind turbines on prime agricultural land, but its board made a conscious decision to focus on addressing met towers first. Now that some form of state-mandated met tower marking has been achieved, the association can explore other related interests. Long-term goals include lighting all wind turbines, the ability to turn off a wind conversion facility during application, linear placement of wind turbines “and a database to find towers or better yet include them in our mapping programs so the hazard is on the map when you print a work order,” Hauschild said.