CARLSBAD — On a recent Monday morning, Carlsbad residents who live along the perimeter of Rancho La Costa Preserve may have noticed a man sitting on the side of a helicopter hovering around the transmission lines that run through the canyon.
Others may have arrived home later that day to see about two dozen brightly colored spheres attached to those wires.
According to officials from Carlsbad and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., the balls were installed by the utility company June 26 to meet a Federal Aviation Administration requirement that transmission lines 200 feet or higher — or those deemed a possible hazard for low-flying aircraft — be marked by the red, white and yellow orbs.
“This operations and maintenance project is a result of a routine assessment of our transmission and distribution system to ensure the highest level of safety for our customers,” SDG&E spokeswoman Sabra Lattos said.
“As part of this review, it was determined that an additional 40 transmission towers in our service territory needed markings to comply with FAA guidelines,” she added.
The transmission equipment that runs through the preserve east of Omni La Costa Resort has been in place for decades.
Jonathan Woldemariam, SDG&E’s director of transmission substation construction and maintenance, said better technology has allowed the utility company to better model and analyze situations for increased safety.
“New technology has given us better tools to assess areas of concern,” he said. “One of those concerns is for aircraft in our service areas.”
Although the wires haven’t created any problems for pilots in the canyon to date, Woldemariam said there have been instances in other parts of the county where a pilot has run into equipment that had been in place for years.
“Whenever we can or are advised to, we put up markers or lights to increase safety,” he said.
Although undergrounding the equipment could be an option, Woldemariam said environmental issues would likely preclude such a project in the preserve.
A week before the markers were installed, SDG&E crews replaced seven spans of existing static wires with thicker lines to accommodate the balls, which were installed on three of those spans.
Lattos said the job has been completed and no additional markers are scheduled to be added. The La Costa project was the only one in Carlsbad.
Jason Haber, Carlsbad’s assistant to the city manager, said because it was an SDG&E operations and maintenance project, the city has no jurisdiction and was not required to notify residents.
Another SDG&E spokeswoman said the company probably should have alerted customers about the installation, adding that the markers are providing an extra layer of safety.
“That’s our number one priority,” she said.