County seeks public input on drone use | PostIndependent.com

County seeks public input on drone use

Seth Hawk of Hawk Aerial Solutions pilots a drone in Carbondale.

In an effort to seek further direction on the county's drone program, Rifle Garfield County Airport Director Brian Condie presented the value, risks and costs associated with Unmanned Aerial Systems to the Board of County Commissioners during a work session Tuesday.

The program is still in its infancy, and the use of drones remains new both in terms of the technology and the laws that guide it. Both commissioners at the hearing, Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson, supported Condie's efforts.

"I think drones are a thing of the future," Samson said. He hopes to see Rifle and Garfield County get a foot in the door in the drone industry.

He suggested that Rifle could someday house a UAS manufacturing plant in Rifle next to the airport.

The Rifle airport is home to the Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. It started as a way to evaluate the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of the state firefighting program. The center's role includes looking at new technologies and new tactics firefighters can use when dealing with wildfires.

Though Condie's presentation included potential employee training and compensation proposals, Jankovsky said the county would be better off contracting the work out rather than forming a new county program.

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He said drones' biggest use would be public safety, and so a program could be formed from the Sheriff's Department. But Jankovsky wants to hear back from Sheriff Lou Vallario and the Garfield County Sheriff's Office.

Condie said many different community departments have expressed interest in drone usage.

He postulates that drones could be used to complete tasks that would otherwise be difficult, costly, hazardous or even impossible. He lists a range of departments and activities that drones could be used for, such as road and bridge condition inspection, land surveying, public relations and event coverage. Drones could be used in law enforcement and emergency management, such as crowd monitoring and wild fires.

While the initial funding of the program was approved at $45,000 for the 2017 budget, Condie anticipates that number could go up to $60,000 in the first two years, with the potential to rapidly expand. This year's $45,000 was used to purchase UAS vehicles, spare parts, computer supplies and training.

The commissioners said they would like to set up another work session to get input from the Sheriff's Department, Road and Bridge, and others before moving forward.