Powerlines near Wishram could pose hazard for planes

FLIGHT HAZARD? The new BPA transmission tower wires going over the Columbia River at Wishram have no flight warning markers on them.

Bonneville Power Administration photo
FLIGHT HAZARD? The new BPA transmission tower wires going over the Columbia River at Wishram have no flight warning markers on them.

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) completed its new Big Eddy-Knight transmission lines earlier this year, with heavy wires traversing the Columbia River from Oregon to a tower near Wishram. The wires have no flight warning markers to provide visual indication to pilots flying in the area. BPA says it met its requirements. Klickitat County officials differ, and they’ve brought in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to do an assessment of the wires.

Based on initial response from the FAA, such an assessment is likely to proceed.

“This is in response to your concerns with the power lines crossing the Columbia River near Wishram,” wrote Ty A. Bartausky, an FAA Front Line Manager in Portland. “An inspector from our office has visited the site. We have forwarded the concerns regarding the unmarked power lines to the Flight Standards NextGen Branch.

“An Obstruction Evaluation Specialist will review our recommendation to mark the power lines. I anticipate that an airspace case will be opened, if one has not already been opened, and subsequently an airspace review will be conducted.”

Bartausky’s comments were in a letter written in response to follow-up communication conducted by aviator Doug Herlihy, who flies for the county, on direction from Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer.

“Our primary concern was the wires do not have the full markings on them for aviation,” Songer says. “Doug [Herlihy] flies for us as a sheriff’s posse member; he’s the air wing for our department. He brought it to my attention that there is a hazard on the Columbia River at that crossing, with the wire not being marked.

“We were able to get a meeting with Bonneville Power in Vancouver, and they were very cordial, very understanding. But they indicated that they’d gone through the hoops and it met everything they needed to do. That still didn’t give us any peace of mind because if that line is not marked, it would be very easy for a pilot to hit that and cause serious injury or death. Not to mention the fact that if it’s not over the water, it could come down on [Highway] 14 or [Interstate] 84.

“It was a real safety concern. So we proceeded with that. And it sounds to me like the FAA is going to proceed with that, and there’s a good possibility that we might get it marked.”

BPA contended they were in compliance with all requirements and that moreover there could be danger posed by markers, including the possibility of one falling from the wires onto traffic on one of the major highways below.

The matter was precipitated by a letter from Songer to Richard Shaheen, Senior Vice President of BPA Transmission Business Services. In it Songer wrote, “I am asking for your urgent review and remedy to the hazard of high transmission lines spanning the Columbia River, west of Wishram and just west of the rail bridge.

“These unmarked lines pose a present danger to aircraft in the Columbia Gorge flight corridor... The Columbia River Basin is a continual and popular aircraft transit route. As such, the Columbia River is a well-known ‘navigable airspace.‘ The altitude of these wires is well within the Federal Aviation Regulations’ permissible minimum safe altitude of 500 feet above the surface.

“Unmarked, these wires invite disaster. The highest thin and invisible static wires from tower to tower are of special concern.” The letter went on to cite other aircraft traffic that might be impacted: U.S. Coast Guard helicopters, drug enforcement aircraft of the state and federal government, and law enforcement aircraft from adjoining counties.

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