County to move for­ward on drone park

New site set to op­er­ate at Pis­gah Park

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

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.

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