The Michigan Aeronautics Commission is pushing for legislation to amend the 1959 Tall Structure Act to enable state officials to know just where existing meteorological evaluation towers are in Michigan, and require them to be more visible to aircraft.
METs are erected by wind farm developers to collect weather data that will indicate if there is sufficient prevailing wind speeds to justify building a wind farm. Over the last 10 years, the state received notice of at least 110 planned METs.
“We have a very non-comprehensive list,” said Linn Smith of the MDOT Office of Aeronautics. It lists where the METs are in Michigan by latitude and longitude and the nearest city, “but we just have no way of knowing if they were ever built or were taken down — short of going to look,” said Smith.
A highly experienced agricultural aviator — often referred to as crop duster — was killed in California in 2011 when he struck an unmarked, unlit MET. The pilot, Steve Allen, had, over several decades, logged more than 26,000 hours in his aircraft without accident. The MET he hit was legal, but a wrongful death lawsuit was eventually settled for $6.7 million.
As long as a MET is less than 200 feet tall, the Federal Aviation Administration does not require it to be marked to make it more visible to low-flying aviators, according to the National Agricultural Aviation Association. The tower that Allen hit was 197 feet high.
The Michigan Aeronautics Commission, an appointed advisory group that is part of the Michigan Department of Transportation, hosted a special public meeting recently to review proposed changes to the state laws on METs. MDOT says meteorological towers “can be problematic for agricultural, balloon and helicopter pilots to see.”
The legislation the Aeronautics Commission wants passed would require new METs in Michigan to be painted in visible colors to be more detectable, along with other details such as large, brightly painted spheres on the guy wires.
“Mainly crop dusters are our biggest concern,” said Rick Fiddler of Ada, who is vice chair of the Aeronautics Commission.
Fiddler began flying in 1969 and worked as a commercial pilot during college flying cargo. He was later employed as a helicopter pilot for the Lansing Police Department and has been at Amway for 32 years, where he is the firm’s director of aviation.
“These towers go up so fast,” he said, erected sometimes in a matter of hours. Permits are not required from the state or FAA if they are less than 200 feet tall, and “they don’t have to be charted,” which would enable pilots to see where they are.
METs are typically used to collect data for 12 to 18 months, then disassembled.
Fiddler believes the state law should be rewritten to ensure all METs are painted in orange and white to make them visible, plus have visible balls on the guy wires.
In fact, according to MDOT, companies putting up METs are not actually required to even notify MDOT when they are erected — it is done now on a voluntary basis.
Some Michigan townships require permits for erection of METs and wind turbines, and one of those is Chester Township in northeast Ottawa County.
In February 2008, the Chester Township Board approved a permit for Iberdrola Renewables to erect a MET. Iberdrola, a Spanish global corporation, was studying the feasibility of a wind farm on the Fruit Ridge in 2007 and 2008. Iberdrola leased a 2-acre parcel on the Harold and Jan Reister farm for a test tower.
“They did put up a tower,” Jan Reister told the Business Journal. She thinks it may have stood for a year or two, but then was taken down by the company.
“I don’t think anything happened” to the potential wind farm plans. “We never heard any more from them,” said Reister.
Chester Township Clerk Janice Redding said the one on the Reister farm was the only MET put up in the township.