Minnesota AAA Zones in on Model Zoning Ordinance

Agricultural Aviation, May/June 2010

Terry Stieren, executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Aircraft Association (MAAA), has been one of the most outspoken proponents for responsible wind energy development within the aerial application industry. MAAA and its members are concerned about met towers as well as wind turbines.

“Met towers are difficult, if not impossible, to see in many cases,” Stieren said. “We have taken aerial photographs at distances of 500, 300 and 100 feet from several of these towers in Southern Minnesota, and the photographs demonstrate, dramatically, how these unmarked, unlighted, towers blend in with the surrounding landscape and become real hazards to aviators.”

Stieren is a member of the Wind Energy Aviation Safety Working Group, a coalition comprised of wind energy developers, wind energy construction companies, Minnesota aerial application firms, medivac providers, Minnesota DOT’s Office of Aeronautics and the FAA. The group met in March of 2009 in what began as an informal information exchange but developed into something more. The stakeholders readily agreed towers under 200 feet pose a hazard to aviation and that something needed to be done.

As the working group continued to meet over the last year, it reached consensus on a set of lighting and marking standards for met towers and developed a model zoning ordinance for met tower marking, painting and reporting. To their credit, Stieren says wind industry developers in Minnesota have taken “a real position of leadership with respect to the issue of met tower marking and mapping.”

“I have significant appreciation for the wind energy folks who chose to voluntarily get involved in this effort. They could have easily turned their backs and walked away,” she continued. “At times we’ve had to agree to disagree on other issues related to wind farm development, but with regard to the met towers we’ve had a good working relationship.”

In February, representatives from the working group approached the Minnesota Association of County Planning and Zoning Officials (MACPZO) about their model zoning ordinance. Zoning and planning commissions across the country are struggling to adopt policies that balance the concerns of residents who derive no financial gain from wind energy turbines with the desire to encourage wind energy development within their jurisdictions.

MACPZO officials acknowledged that current tower zoning ordinances consider the safety of individuals on the ground more so than the safety of individuals in low-flying aircraft. They also expressed general support for the model ordinance. The only concern the association raised was about the mandatory reporting requirement for towers under 200 feet. MACPZO wanted assurances that any requirement would involve a streamlined reporting and mapping process. According to Stieren, the wind energy/aviation coalition is working with the FAA and Minnesota DOT–Aeronautics to develop a mapping system to serve as a central repository where aviators can easily find met towers by longitude and latitude.