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Drone ordinance passes, but second vote needed


The Pitt County Board of Commissioners presented a resolution of appreciation to Rita Roy, director of Community Schools and Recreation, who is retiring later this month. Joining Roy, center, are her friends and colleagues, from left, Cassandra Bell, Alice Keene, Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott and Commissioner Mark Owens Jr., board chairman.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

An new county ordinance will require drone pilots to launch and land the aircraft within their line of site, although commercial and agricultural uses are exempted from the rule.

The Pitt County Board of commissioners voted 7-2 Monday to approve the ordinance governing remote-controlled aircraft in unincorporated areas of the county, but a second vote will be needed before it can take effect.

County Attorney Janis Gallagher explained that ordinances require either unanimous approval or approval during two votes before they can be enforced. Commissioners Ann Floyd Huggins and Glen Webb voted against the proposed ordinance questioning the necessity and enforceability of the rules.

The second vote will take place in March.

Commissioner Charles Farley proposed the ordinance in December after hearing a presentation from Federal Aviation Administration officials that rules were needed.

The main purpose is governing the launch and landing of the remote control systems. It requires both actions to occur within the operator’s line of sight. Municipalities must establish their own regulations.

The board during earlier discussions created the exemption for people using drones for agricultural purposes and another for commercial purposes authorized by the FAA.

A public hearing was held prior to Monday’s vote.

Dan Mayo, a continuing education instructor at Pitt Community College, teaches a course that prepares people to pass an FAA test so they can pilot drones commercially.

He recommended revisiting the purpose of the ordinance, pointing out that exempting people authorized by the FAA to fly drones meant an exemption for agricultural activities was unnecessary.

John Banks, vice chairman of the Pitt-Greenville Airport Authority board, also questioned the exemptions. He listed a number of scenarios where aircraft could collide with drones.

“When we look at ordinances, I try to decipher is it something we really need and if we’re creating issues for enforcement,” Webb said.

Gallagher said individuals guilty of violating the drone ordinance could receive a $50 fine. Gallagher said staff believe the ordinance is enforceable

Commissioner Tom Coulson said some actions are predictable and this ordinance will allow the county to have consequences in place. He noted there have been news reports of people using drones to drop contraband at prisons. Webb said the state and the FAA already has laws, tougher than the county’s ordinance, in place if a drone is used for criminal activity.

“I understand what you are saying about getting ahead of the game,” Huggins said. “But, it’s another thing for the sheriff to do.”

There are always concerns about the response time of deputies, and she wondered if answering calls about drone could create more problems.

“I came prepared to vote for this ordinance,” Commissioner Jimmy Garris said. “But after both of you (Banks and Mayo) spoke, is there more you would do?”

Mayo said the ordinance is a positive step. He would like to see it fine tuned so it ensures operators land and launch drones while in their line of sight.

There’s huge public interest in drones, Banks said, and it will only grow, creating greater nuisances.

The public hearing and commissioner discussion occurred under the watch of more than a dozen South Central High School students who attended the meeting as part of Victoria Bridgers’ civics class. The students were directed to observe the session, take notes and discuss their opinions on the process at a later date.

Other action at Monday’s meeting included:

• Unanimous approval of a resolution selecting First Bank, based in Southern Pines, to finance a $2.15 million loan to expand and update the Pitt County Animal Shelter. The bank, one of nine that bid on the project, offered the lowest interest rate, 2.99 percent, on the 10-year financing plan.

• A resolution honoring Rita Roy, Pitt County Community Schools and Recreation director, who is retiring later this month.

The resolution noted her achievements, including the development of a youth basketball program that grew to serve 1,200 students playing on 163 teams, an exercise program for seniors and the development of Senior Games in Pitt County and the state.

“Rita A. Roy has focused her life’s work on the health and wellness of citizens of all ages throughout Pitt County,” the resolution stated.

The commissioners also unanimously approved naming the natural trail at Alice F. Keene Park for Roy, who championed its developed and participated in its construction.

• Unanimously approved a resolution stating the Board of Commissioners’ opposition to any proposal to do away with election of judges in favor of appointing the position.

Mark Owens Jr., the board chairman, temporarily turned over the meeting’s management to vice chairman Glen Webb so he could advocate for the resolution.

• Unanimously voted to award a $499,997 contract to E.R. Lewis Construction to make improvements to the sewer infrastructure at Indigreen Corporate Park, located on Sugg Parkway. Once the work is completed the lines will be accepted by Greenville Utilities Commission for future maintenance.

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