Monday, September 18, 2017

Navy proposes drone take-off and landing ban near installations

There's a variety of drones with videos cameras available for purchase on the Internet for as little as $50, which makes them more accessible than ever for amateur hobbyists and professional videographers alike to soar over the city and record a bird's-eye view of the waterfront. 

But Naval Base Kitsap officials are concerned some drone pilots might have something in mind other than sightseeing, NBK Commanding Officer Capt. Alan Schrader said.

"It's an issue of national security," Schrader said. "These drones can be used for a whole series of nefarious activities."

Schrader and NBK Community Planning Liaison Officer Lynn Wall presented a proposed ordinance before the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners on Monday that would prohibit the launching and landing of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, near the base's five military installations.

NBK officials said drone flights continue over Navy installations despite Federal Aviation Administration regulations that prohibit such action, but they would not disclose any specific incidents.

The base's security concerns from drone overflight include "unauthorized surveillance, unauthorized access to or disclosure of classified or otherwise lawfully protected information; disruption of or damage to a communication system; interference or disruption of a Navy mission; or in worst cases UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) may be used for delivery or carriage of weapons, explosives, or other hazardous materials for criminal activities," according to a list of talking points released by the Navy.  

Although the county does not have the jurisdiction to directly govern drone flight itself in the proposed buffer zones, NBK officials said an indirect approach to prohibit drone take-offs and landings in the buffer-zone areas would effectively do so and would legally fall under the county's purview. 

"It's not saying you can't fly, but technically you can't launch or land, so you're not flying in that area," Wall said. 

The ban would extend 3,000 feet from the fence lines of each installation, including the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Keyport, Naval Hospital Bremerton and the fuel depot at Manchester.

NBK officials and the county are seeking to coordinate efforts with the city of Bremerton to develop a uniform ordinance so the law would be the same across the city and county jurisdictions.

The proposed buffer around PSNS would encompass the downtown Bremerton area and the waterfront. It would run south across the Sinclair Inlet almost to Port Orchard and north to 11th Street. To the west, it would run to Highway 3 and encompass Navy Yard City and then span east with a boundary of almost the entire length of the Manette bridge.

"Obviously this is going to have an impact on a number of individuals, the folks who are private citizens who live in whatever radius is selected," Schrader said, in addition to those who wish to operate drones in the open public lands that fall within the barrier.

In a special circumstance, the buffer zones wouldn't be the final say on using a drone to film footage in the area. The county discussed developing an exemption that would allow the use of a drone to film a special event, such as a wedding or a party, with an approved application and "reminders and restrictions that they will not be able to go over across the base lines," Kitsap County Sheriff Gary Simpson said.

All types of unmanned aircraft would fall under the take-off and landing ban within the buffer zones. 

"The simplicity of enforcement is if it's all [of them], it's anything and everything," Simpson said. "If it's it's defined as 'this, this and this,' then it's always up for interpretation."

The proposal did not identify what sort of penalty violators of the buffer zone would face if they were caught operating a drone in the banned area, ranging from whether it could be a civil fine to a misdemeanor violation that could result in jail time. 

"There has to be some kind of balance there," Simpson said. "If we don't make it serious enough, then it will just be laughed upon."

NBK's proposal is modeled after a similar ordinance passed in St. Marys, Georgia, near the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, in December 2016. 

County officials will be writing a draft ordinance in the next week, considering enforcement mechanisms and developing a community outreach effort for a public conversation on the proposed buffer areas. 

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.kitsapsun.com

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