Weekly Feature

2017-10-12 / Front Page

Town begins process to eliminate local law on drones

by CHRIS GRAHAM
Editor

Flying a drone around events of 200 or more people in Orchard Park may become a reality again, as the Orchard Park Town Board is beginning the process to get rid of a local law that prohibited drone usage at these events.

The process started at the Oct. 4 Town Board meeting when Councilman Michael Sherry charged Town Attorney John Bailey to write a local law rescinding the article on drones. A public hearing must be held on the local law before it is abolished. A date for the hearing has not yet been announced.

If the decision to rescind is approved by the board, the motion would be filed with the state and the law removed 10 days after that.

Sherry said local media reports led him to having the law, in place since 2015, looked into. The law made it unlawful for anyone to operate a drone within 1 mile of an open air event in town that would have an attendance of more than 200 people. The Village of Orchard Park mirrored the ordinance in 2015 to protect its events, such as the Taste of Orchard Park.

The law, which was brought forth by Police Chief Mark Pacholec as another tool to help public safety, also had specific rules for gameday events at New Era Field. The law said no one could operate a drone within 3 miles of the field four hours prior or two hours after the event.

In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration passed new regulations regarding drones, making the efforts by Orchard Park complementary, with the FAA rules superseding the local law. The main regulation includes temporary flight restrictions one hour before and after a Buffalo Bills game at New Era Field. This does not apply to concerts at the stadium.

“No member of the board had any knowledge of the FAA and what Congress had delegated to them specifically all airspace throughout the nation,” Sherry said.

Sherry said another reason for moving to rescind was a Supreme Court case in 2012 that said there can’t be complementary laws to what the FAA puts forward for airspace restrictions.

Believing there was nothing in place to keep the stadium area safe, Sherry said the law was put in place.

Until the board makes a decision following the public hearing, the law is still in place. Pacholec said cases, including Rochester resident Joseph Danno, who was charged with trespassing with an unmanned aircraft at the U2 concert, are still active cases. There have been five drone incidents since the law was enacted in 2015. Those charged with the violation face a $250 fine or up to 15 days in prison, or both based on the incident under the local law.

Pacholec said another reason the law was put in place was because the FAA didn’t have the resources to come to the stadium with agents on event days.

“They, the enforcement arm of the FAA, typically don’t work weekends and our games are typically on weekends,” Pacholec said. “I was very direct and said ‘Are you going to have agents out here on gameday?’ The answer is no.”

Sherry said he has spoken to the village about the recent developments regarding the law.

For those who are concerned that the Police Department would have no defense against a drone attack once the law is rescinded, Sherry said there are still laws in place to stop someone operating a drone if it causes public alarm or a panic.

The town also contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Chris Collins to see where the FAA is in regard to releasing their full regulations on drone usage.

“We would certainly take our lead from the FAA,” Sherry said. “The town attorney and I have calls into the FAA to seek more clarification from them.”

Being one of 32 areas that has an NFL stadium that can seat thousands of people, Sherry feels there can be a better level of communication between the given municipality and the FAA.

“Why would we, people who sit on a local Town Board, be aware of their regulations?” “We can’t sit there and read all the laws of the land from local to federal and even international.”

Sherry said given the events that take place and the amount of coordination that happens within the town to make the event operational, the town would have something to contribute to a conversation at the federal level.

email: cgraham@beenews.com

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