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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee County parks officials want to prevent drones from swarming parks and parkways and creating safety problems in those public places.
The growing popularity of drone ownership and a steadily increasing number of requests to fly and even race drones in the parks prompted officials to seek a prohibition for the safety of other park users, said John Nelson, parks safety manager.
"It is difficult to gauge how many drones are actively being flown in parks," Nelson said. "While levels are low now, we anticipate that the numbers will likely rise."
Some drone operators are raising concerns about the plan.
While the county does not allow drones in parks and parkways at this time, officials do not have an ordinance regulating their use that could be enforced, Nelson said.
The first step is a proposal to prohibit the launching and landing of drones on county parkland.
The County Board on Thursday delayed acting on the measure and referred it to the county Corporation Counsel for review to ensure compliance with federal law.
Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun said her office also would check how other municipalities regulate unmanned aerial vehicles.
The proposed resolution would add drones to the list of aircraft already prohibited from use in parks without a permit.
"No person shall ascend or land with any aircraft, including gliders, hot air balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), drones or parachutes, nor engage in stunt flying or parachute landing in any park or parkway without the written permit of the director of parks, recreation and culture," the revised ordinance says.
Violating the ordinance would carry a fine of $263.50.
There is no procedure in place at this time for requesting a permit and that concerns Jon Elliott, owner of MKE Drones LLC, an aerial photography business.
Elliot has used drones in working for the parks department at county golf courses and in shooting video of the China Lights lantern festival at Boerner Botanical Gardens, he said. Even so, he was not aware of the proposed prohibition until he was contacted by a reporter the day before the Thursday board meeting.
"Legally, the county can control where you take off and land in parks but the county can't control where you fly," Elliott said. Only the Federal Aviation Administration controls the airspace, he said.
He could launch a drone legally from a public street outside of a park "and fly over that park," Elliott said in an email sent to County Board supervisors.
Elliott also questioned when park permits would be available.
"What guarantees do we have that a legal permit process will be established soon and not in five years," he said in the email.
Peter Menet, founder of Menet Aero Inc. and a member of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Advocacy Network board of directors, said he is opposed to a blanket prohibition of drones in the county parks.
"We've got so few public places to fly to begin with," Menet said. The Milwaukee-based company depends on public parkland to test new equipment and check drone repairs, he said.
Menet would support a permit process for gaining access to the parks, he said.
Menet Aero uses drones in aerial inspections of oil and gas pipelines and other utility lines as well as in support of search and rescue efforts and other emergency government operations.
The Federal Aviation Administration regulates commercial use of unmanned aircraft and requires a remote pilot certificate.
Recreational or hobby users must register their unmanned vehicle with the FAA and comply with a federal "special rule for model aircraft" that includes keeping the craft in sight at all times.
Federal law also restricts use of drones within five miles of an airport and prohibits drones from flying over a major sports stadium.
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