A public hearing on a proposed ordinance restricting operation of unmanned aircraft in Lincoln County and providing a penalty for such, was held Sept. 8 at the county commission meeting in Pioche.
Commissioners approved the ordinance 4-1 with Varlin Higbee voting no, but commissioners did feel possibly more work on the specific language could be done.
A person is guilty of committing an offense if they operate the unmanned aircraft with the intent to gather, record, or transmit a sound or image of another individual in a place or location where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Also involved are operating unmanned aircraft to photograph, videotape, record, transmit, or otherwise capture a sound or image of any portion of the Nevada Test and Training Range within Lincoln County; or operate the aircraft over real property that causes injury, damage, hurt, inconvenience, annoyance, or discomfort to any person or entity’s legitimate use of that property.
The ordinance states: “Whereas the rapid implementation of unmanned aircraft technology throughout the United States poses a serious threat to privacy of the residents and citizens of Lincoln County, as well as to entities and government agencies operating in Lincoln County; and able to gain unprecedented access to private and government property, the ability to unreasonably interfere with and prevent real property owners and users from the legitimate use and enjoyment of their real property; photograph and record, and otherwise capture images and sounds of property, activities, and persons without consent; and signs along the perimeter of the Nevada Test and Training Range already warn that photography of the test site and training range is prohibited pursuant to 18 U.S.C § 795.”
District Attorney Daniel Hooge said the ordinance defines an “unmanned aircraft” as an airborne device that is operated without an individual in or on the device. It may be expendable or recoverable. An image is defined as a photograph, video, or any capturing, recording, or gathering, in analog, digital, or other form, of sound waves, thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electronic waves, radio waves, odor, or other conditions existing on or about real property in this county or an individual located on that property.
Hooge said the ordinance was drafted because of complaints his office has received, “and right now we have no authority to take action.”
The County ordinance will not apply to flights authorized by the U.S. Air Force, or a law enforcement agency acting pursuant to a warrant, or a local, state, or federal government entity after determining that under the circumstances, there is an immediate danger of death or serious injury.
Rachel resident Russell Tracy was at the hearing to protest, stating the ordinance is “unneeded.” He said, “We already have enough federal regulations concerning drones and unmanned aircraft, and penalties.” And he cited some of the basic rules in Section 336 of the FAA Modernization Reform Act of 2012, stating, “You can’t fly above 400 feet, must remain clear of surrounding obstacles, keep the aircraft within a visual line of sight at all times, remain clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, do not fly around people or stadiums if the aircraft weighs more than 55 pounds”, among others.
Tracy also stated that in February, 2015, President Obama signed “a memorandum promoting the economic competitiveness while safeguarding privacy, civil rights, civil liberties of the use of domestic unmanned aircraft.” Tracy asked the commissioners not to infringe on his civil rights. He said, “All the penalties are outlined in the memorandum, we don’t need any additional ones.”
He told the commission board he wants, “to keep our airwaves free and under the guidance and ruling of the Federal Aviation Administration. It should not be up to the county commission. There are so many federal guidelines out there now, we do not need to capitulate to what the Air Force wants.”
Tracy said in regards to unauthorized photographs taken over the Nevada Test and Training Site, Google Earth already has photos of better resolution than ones that could be taken by unmanned aircraft. “I can count the number of cars and what color they are in the parking lot. I find it hard to believe that you could get a drone that close to get that kind of detail.”
He gave the commissioners a list of FFA guidelines of how local law enforcement is suggested to handle unauthorized aircraft operations.
Connie Simkins said in some cases however, people are not observing the laws in place around local airports and the problem is enforcing those rules, “and I think we need some kind of an ordinance.”
Hooge said the FFA regulations are only for “so many feet high and above. When you get down to the lower levels, they don’t regulate someone flying a drone into someone else’s backyard. Tracy said the FFA regulations do cover some of the privacy expectations.
The question was also asked do the rules apply to people who want to fly model airplanes? Is that an annoyance? Tracy said he felt the language in the proposed ordinance is too broad and needs to be more specific. But Hooge responded that model airplanes are allowed.
Past discussion have also occurred regarding flying drones over wildfire areas. The County Emergency Management Director has already stated drones have been known to interfere with airdrop activities in some fire zones, and he said, when the forest service knows a drone is present, they will stop all operations in the air, even on the ground.