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Public hearings being held on drone ordinance, animal shelter financing

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A drone owned by Scott Carpenter hovers in the air Monday morning. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 19, 2018

A public hearing is scheduled for today on a proposed ordinance governing drone usage in Pitt County that includes exemptions for agriculture and commercial businesses.

It is one of two public hearings being conducted by the Pitt County Board of Commissioners beginning at 6 p.m. in Eugene James Auditorium in the county office building, 1717 W. Fifth St. The other public hearing involves financing for the expansion of the Pitt County Animal Shelter.

Commissioner Charles Farley in December proposed adopting an ordinance that would govern the launching and landing of unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones.

Farley is vice chairman of the airport subcommittee of the National Association of Counties’ transportation committee. During a presentation to that body Federal Aviation Administration officials recommended that local governments begin adopting rules governing takeoffs and landings in their communities.

The FAA is trying to avoid regulating airspace in people’s backyards, Farley said. The Federal Aviation Administration typically enacts rules and regulates aerial devices.

Since December, several changes to the proposed ordinance’s language have occurred.

At Farley’s request the ordinance exempts radio-controlled aircraft from the rules. During the board’s Feb. 5 meeting, Tom Best, vice chairman of the Pitt County Soil and Water Conservation District Board, requested an exemption for autonomous drones which are guided by GPS systems to fly at low altitudes over a predesignated farm property.

John Banks, vice chairman of the Pitt-Greenville Airport Authority Board, expressed concern about the request. Banks read off a list of near-miss collisions and a few actual collisions involving aircraft and drones.

“We have a lot of fields in Pitt County,” Banks said. He questioned if an autonomous drone could collide with a crop duster coming across one field to spray a nearby field.

“I am not big on regulations and limiting people’s rights, but FAA put these drone ordinances in place for future safety,” Banks said.

The commissioners directed legal staff to add the farming exemption.

Another exemption was added after county staff was contacted by an AT&T company representative that asked that drones operating for commercial purposes and authorized by the FAA be exempt from the ordinance.

The ordinance states that unmanned aircraft systems have to be in the operator’s visual line of sight to take off or land, cannot take off or land within 25 feet of another person, unless it is the operator’s designee, and that drones cannot take off or land within 1,500 horizontal feet of any aircraft.

The ordinance also says the drone cannot have an attached weapon.

It also says drones cannot take off or land within 500 feet of an operating emergency vehicle or an active law enforcement or emergency incident.

Staff also included a recommendation from Banks that a drone cannot take off or land in violation of any temporary flight restriction or notice to airmen issued by the FAA.

Banks explained earlier in the month that such flight restrictions are put in place during home football games at East Carolina University.

The other public hearing is to receive comments on a proposed installment to finance the animal shelter expansion and renovation project. The expansion will increase space for housing dogs and cats along with expanding office space.

The project is expected to cost $2.15 million. Nine banks submitted bids for financing the project in the 10-year repayment period. The interest rates ranged from 2.99 percent to 3.64 percent and varying fee amounts.

The debt payment, which begin fiscal year 2018-19 will be covered by funds freed up by pay-off of the county’s original guaranteed energy saving project.

Also on tonight’s agenda:

• A resolution honoring Rita Roy, retiring director of Pitt County Community Schools and Recreation. There also is a proposal to name the natural trail at Alice F. Keene District Park in Roy’s honor.

• A request from Pitt Community College to used $258,000 of the school’s fund balance to repair the roof of its Greenville Center.

• A request to send a letter supporting proposed safety improvements at the southern intersection of N.C. 11 South with Reedy Branch Road.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

Proposed Drone Ordinance

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM (UAS) ORDINANCE

Section 1. Authority

This Ordinance is adopted pursuant to the authority granted by North Carolina General Statute § 153A-121.

Section 2. Purpose

The operation of unmanned aircraft (UAS), commonly known as drones, can at times pose a hazard to full-scale aircraft in flight and to persons and property on the ground. Imposing community-based safety requirements and restrictions on the operation of UAS that do not preempt federal aviation rules or authority or state law, is necessary to mitigate such risks and to protect the public from the hazards associated with the operation of UAS.

Section 3. Severability

If any section, sentence, clause or phrase of this Ordinance is held to be invalid or unconstitutional by a decision of any court of competent jurisdiction, such decision shall not affect the validity of the remaining portions of this Ordinance.

Section 4. Jurisdiction

This Ordinance shall be applicable to the unincorporated areas of Pitt County and within any municipalities that adopt this Ordinance by resolution.

Section 5: Definitions

FAA: Federal Aviation Administration.

Person: Any individual, partnership, corporate or joint venture.

Public UAS: Any UAS operated on behalf of the federal government, state government, or a local government.

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS): A rotary-wing aircraft without a human pilot on board that is

controlled from an operator on the ground and operates without the possibility of direct human

intervention from within or on the aircraft.

Visual Line of Sight: An unobstructed view of the UAS by the operator. The operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the UAS. People other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight. The use of vision-enhancing devices such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, goggles or other devices designed to provide a “first-person view” from the UAS do not constitute visual line of sight of the operator. As used in this Ordinance visual line of sight only pertains to takeoff and landing.

Section 6: Regulation of UAS Takeoff and Landing

A. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS outside of the person’s visual line of sight.

B. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS within 25 feet of another individual, except the operator or the operator’s designee.

C. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS on private property without the consent of the property owner.

D. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS within one thousand five hundred (1,500) horizontal feet of any aircraft.

E. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS that has any type of weapon attached to it.

F. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS in a reckless manner so as to create a substantial risk of serious physical injury to any person or substantial risk of damage to the property of another.

G. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS within five hundred (500) feet of any emergency vehicle that is operating with lights and/or sirens.

H. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS within five hundred (500) feet of any active law enforcement or emergency response incident.

I. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS in violation of any Temporary Flight Restriction or Notice to Airmen issued by the FAA.

J. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS within one hundred (100) feet of a school facility without prior notification and authorization of school officials.

K. No person shall takeoff or land a UAS within five hundred (500) feet of the Pitt County Detention Center and other Pitt County Sheriff’s Office facilities.

Section 7: Exemption

A. This Ordinance shall not apply to any Public UAS.

B. This Ordinance shall not apply to any UAS weighing less than 0.55 lbs.

C. This Ordinance shall not apply to any UAS used for agricultural purposes on property used for bona fide farm purposes as defined in North Carolina General Statute 153A-340.

D. This Ordinance shall not apply to any UAS operated by a person for a commercial purpose pursuant to and in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, authorizations or exemptions.

Section 8: Penalties

Violations of this Ordinance will be prosecuted under North Carolina General Statute § 14-4.

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