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Drone ban considered over city property

The Troy City Council is considering a new ordinance to make the space above city properties a “no drone zone.”

Utilities Manager Brian Chandler said the FAA handles most drone regulations, but barring drones from flying over city properties is left to the cities.

“We have not had any serious issues, but as most of you know, a lot of people here and everywhere else have a drone – whether for business or personal use,” Chandler said. “The FAA handles regulations for the country, but at this time, they do not regulate saying whether you can fly over city property.”

Chandler said the issue of flying over city property was brought to his attention when a local high school students decided to check out a water tower by drone and got the device stuck on top of the tank.

“He called us about it and then two days later the wind blew it off,” Chandler said. “There was no damage to the water tank, but if something similar happened over a crash scene or a substation it could cause problems.”

The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to fly a drone over city property or over an area where city employees are working, whether that’s police on the scene of a crime, firefighters at a fire or utility workers at a project site.

Chandler said the purpose of the ordinance is not to send people to jail, but to provide an ordinance that explains the danger and potential damage that flying a drone over public property could cause.

There are no specific regulations about distance from the public property, which Chandler said is to keep from overstepping FAA regulations that could actually weaken the city ordinance in court.

Chandler said the FAA regulations are falling behind the fast-advancing technology.

“The technology has advanced so fast unfortunately, and drones have gotten so cheap that regulations have not caught up with the technology,” Chandler said. “The current regulations are based on 2015 standards.”

Councilwoman Stephanie Baker asked about situations such as TroyFest where the city uses a drone for publicity.

Chandler said that the FAA actually bans flying drones over people, but that the city could fly the drone over buildings, including city buildings if approved by the mayor and police chief.

If the ordinance is approved, anybody seeking to fly a drone over city property can seek approval of the mayor and police chief to permit the drone usage.

Chandler said signs would also be placed in the areas to make sure people know that drone usage is not allowed in the area.

In other business, the council:

• Approved a bid to School Outfitters for a new stage for all public events requiring a stage. The cost is $19,878.

• Approved a bid to Bill Jackson Ford for a 2020 pickup truck to replace a 2013 Ford Taurus totaled in a motor vehicle collision on December 5. The cost is $31,296.

• Approved an agreement with Lawson State Community College for $7,000 to provide a 32-hour plumbing technician training course for water department employees.

• Heard a first reading on a bid to update the ordinance on flood damage prevention to stay in compliance with state and federal standards.