Drone operators clash with county park’s policy

GENESEE COUNTY — Drone operators in the area are concerned about the Genesee County parks policy of restricting the areas in which the unmanned vehicles can be operated in the parks and one person spoke to the parks board at a recent meeting.

Drone operator and photographer Joel Muxlow said he understands their fears but believes state law preempts park policy; however, the state statute specifically allows a “political subdivision” to make rules, regulations, and ordinance for the use of unmanned aircraft within their jurisdiction (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act 436 of 2016, Section 259.305(1).

Mike Millinkov, drone operator and founder of the Flint Area Drone Operators club also disagrees with the policy feeling it violates the section which prohibits prohibition of drones. “The current designated park for drone use is Buell Lake County Park Airport,” said Barry June, newly elected parks Director. “We are the only county park, that we know of, in the state that has a designated park for unmanned aircraft.”

That park is located in the very rural, northeast corner of the county. Muxlow said he doesn’t understand why they don’t allow drones in the parks and that it is a perfect place for drone operators, as it is public land. He said it is a recreational activity. Following his comments to the board, he added as a landscape photographer he would like a great deal more leeway, especially in a park.

As updated in the Dec. 13 meeting, the parks policy states, “No person shall, upon the property administered by the Commission: Make any ascent or descent, or operate any balloon, airplane, parachute, drone, manned or unmanned aircraft on Commission properties or waters, except in designated areas, without first obtaining written permission from the Commission or except as may be necessary in the event of an emergency. Violation of this Park Rule is a Misdemeanor.”

Commissioner Michael J. Keeler said he hopes the board would address the concerns of the public regarding drones.

“It is getting to be a growing sport for people so perhaps maybe at the first of the year we could start looking into it and see what the proper regs and rules would be, where this would be allowed, where it shouldn’t be allowed,” said Keeler.

An unnamed park employee at the meeting spoke afterward saying she has encountered drones while sunbathing at a beach and found it a very uncomfortable situation. The written permission requires a person to fill out a ‘License Agreement for Special Use of Park Facilities’ which can be granted with or without conditions based on specific criteria in that agreement, e.g. possibility of disturbance of the peace, injury or damage to park property.

Commissioner David Martin echoed Keeler’s sentiments adding perhaps they could simplify the process to allow their use. Muxlow said he is in favor of them doing that if they follow the proper steps under state law and that safety is no different than it would be for a manned vehicle operator and fall on the person licensed to operate the drone.

Interestingly, last year June, in his position as trustee with Atlas Township, he was the second on a motion to remove a drone ordinance from their agenda after months of discussion. Township Attorney David Lattie spent months crafting the ordinance, which crash landed after Township Supervisor Tere Onica and other officials, Skyped (an internet based video chat) with Kyle Lewis, Regional Manager of the Great Lakes chapter of the Association of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

“It was a very interesting conversation,” said Onica. What they learned is, according to federal law, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) owns the airspace from the ground up.

“We can’t interfere with federal law,” Onica explained. To help enforce the federal rule, the FAA to enforce their rules; namely a registration system which will allow remote identification of drones.

The FAA currently has more than a million registered drones. More information on this is available at https:// drone-registration.net/faa-drone-registration/

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