Power line took off much too quickly

Grand Junction pilot David Shepard lands his aircraft at Blake Field Airport north of Delta. A Federal Aviation Administration official says the onus of enforcement will be on Delta County should the FAA put in place stringent safety requirements at the airport because of nearby power lines.

We understand the desire to complete a project before winter arrives, but it appears Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s push to complete an electric transmission line in Delta County could have troubling consequences, both for the company and for those who fly small airplanes.

The line passes near Blake Field Airport outside of Delta. Tri-State completed the line in mid-November, even though the Federal Aviation Administration had yet to determine whether the line would create any safety issues at Blake Field.

The result, according to the airport manager and at least one pilot who regularly uses the general aviation airport, is a power line within a half mile of the airport that presents a serious safety hazard to airplanes. That’s especially true of planes flying at night or those which might be forced to make emergency landings, they said.

The pilot and airport manager told The Daily Sentinel’s William Woody the line should be moved farther from the airport.

The FAA hasn’t made a final determination yet. That will come early next month. It could recommend the line be moved, that visual markers be placed on the poles and power lines near the airport, or some other measures. Whatever it recommends, safety must be the top priority.

Tri-State has long been an important organization to this region, supplying wholesale electricity to numerous electric cooperatives in Colorado and other states. And new transmission lines such as the one that passes near Blake Field are certainly needed to meet the growing demand for electricity in western Colorado.

Furthermore, Tri-State has not been an organization that ignores local concerns and planning requirements in constructing its projects. The company obtained the required permit for the line from Delta County, and initially, it believed it didn’t need FAA review of the power line.

But that, according to Tri-State, occurred because someone with the company at first plugged in the wrong coordinates for the power line on an FAA website. When the company discovered the mistake and entered the correct coordinates, it realized that FAA review was required.

Tri-State notified the federal agency in October, but by then, construction of the transmission line was well under way. Tri-State continued and completed it.

Whether that was a wise thing to do, time will tell. We certainly don’t have the aviation expertise to argue whether the line should be moved, or what appropriate corrective action should be taken.

When the FAA — which does have the expertise — issues its decision next month, we hope Tri-State will quickly comply with it and not put the cost of rectifying its mistake ahead of fliers’ safety.


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