County to move forward on drone park
New site set to operate at Pisgah Park
Drones have been the source of controversy around the country with states implementing their own regulations on where they can be piloted, how they can be piloted and what they can do.
But Charles County will serve as a haven for drones, at least for the next year. After the Federal Aviation Administration administered a “no-drone-zone” mandate banning drone flight within a 30 mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the
county proposed opening a drone park in the Newburg area to give county residents and tourists a place to fly their drones.
But now that the FAA shrunk that radius to 15 miles rather than 30, the county has chosen the Pisgah Recreational Landfill — located near Pisgah Park, off Mason Springs Road — as a different, more convenient option for a drone park.
“We have researched quite a few things and we feel that this would be a very good opportunity,” said Eileen Minnick, director of the county’s Recreation, Parks and Tourism division.
Gregory Kernan, the chief of Parks and Grounds in Charles County, said the county has already reached out to the Maryland Aviation Administration and they have “no problems at all” with the proposed park and its regulations.
The county will have a six-month trial period, Kernan said, where it will use its initial regulations for drones and see how things work. After the period is over, the county can choose to move forward with any needed changes or even drop the program altogether.
“We’re going to establish some park rules and then, at the end of the six month evaluation period, we’ll come back with our findings,” Kernan told commissioners.
The park’s hours will be on weekdays and weekends from 8 a.m. to dusk, Kernan said. There will also be a no-fly zone over Pisgah Park, he said.
Both park rules and FAA rules will be posted in the park, Kernan said, and there will be park officials in the area to give “limited supervision.”
There will be a slight incline on the area of the landfill leading to the drone launchpad area near its center. The county will add a parking area with a portable toilet.
The county will also be adding a gazebo with a park bench and a table, Kernan said, to allow operators to use laptops and tablets.
Operators must stay within the boundaries of the landfill, Kernan said, and must avoid flying over pedestrians and any wildlife in the area. The department is also proposing limiting the amount of vehicles in the air at a time to just four.
Charles County Commissioners’ Vice President Debra Davis (D) said she feels good about not having any residential property near the drone park. She also likes the idea of having a six month trial period.
“We can take baby steps and deal with any issues that come about,” Davis said.
Something she would like to see, she said, is having drone pilots to state that they have read and understand the rules. “I think that might be helpful,” she said.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said this is a great way of repurposing a county landfill and an “excellent location.” The county was able to move to this place after the nofly zone was reduced, but this is the “perfect” area, he said.
Minnick said the property is 50 acres in total. Robinson said the area is well-maintained for a landfill.
Six months is a good time for a trial period, Robinson said, and “hopefully it will be very successful.”
The next step Minnick said is requesting approvals from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Once that happens, she said, the park’s operation can move forward.