Yamada Bill Aiming to Save Lives of Agricultural Pilots Clears First Legislative Committee

Apr 25, 2011
Rachel Linn - (916) 319 - 2008

AB 511 requires meteorological towers under 200 feet to be clearly marked for low-flying pilots

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Mariko Yamada’s (D – Davis) Assembly Bill 511 passed out of its first policy hearing today, receiving a 9-0 unanimous aye vote in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee.  AB 511 would require orange and white striping, tracking balls on the guy wires and blinking red lights on all towers measuring wind in California between 50 and 200 feet in height – consistent with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations on towers above 200 feet.  The bill will now move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Stephen Allen, 58, of Courtland, died on January 10th, 2011 when he struck an unmarked 198-foot tower that had been erected to evaluate the possible placement of wind turbines. Witnesses said Allen, a veteran pilot, did not attempt to evade the tower prior to the crash, suggesting that the tower was not visible. 

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic and possibly avoidable death of Stephen Allen.  After reviewing the facts surrounding the incident, it was clear that the state needs a standard for these towers.   My hope is that this legislation will pass so that the accident that took Mr. Allen’s life and stole a husband and father from his family will never again be repeated in California.”

In this morning’s hearing, Karen Allen, the widow of Stephen Allen, joined by his two daughters, gave emotional testimony urging the members of the committee to support this legislation.  Numerous family and friends of Stephen also lent their support in committee.

“The Allen family wants to thank Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada and the committee for their attention and consideration to this issue,” said Karen Allen.  “We appreciate their supporting votes and we look forward to pursuing this legislation to its ultimate passage.”

In a joint statement, Gail Beck and Angela Lucero, the daughters of Stephen Allen, praised Yamada for bringing the bill forward.  “I am thankful to Assemblymember Yamada and her staff for introducing this life saving bill. These unmarked towers are deadly. Unfortunately, our father paid the ultimate price. I hope his legacy will be one of effecting change to save lives. The passage of this bill into law will ensure that our dad did not lose his life in vain.”

As the number of renewable energy developers grow, so does the demand for green energy measuring tools and instruments.  Wind farm developers use Meteorological Evaluation Towers (METs) to measure wind currents to find the best locations for new wind farms.  Frequently, these thin, steel towers are built slightly less than 200 feet in height – just under the requirements for markings by the FAA – and erected nearly overnight in order to edge out competitors.  This practice renders them nearly invisible to pilots flying at low heights, primarily agricultural pilots.

“Competitive advantage is not worth someone’s life,” said Yamada. “If the MET were just two feet taller, the FAA would have required orange and white stripes and lighting, and Stephen Allen would still be with us today.”