BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN After learning the Federal Aviation Administration has exclusive authority to regulate drone flights, the Delano City Council decided Tuesday that it would not pursue municipal drone regulations.
City Administrator Phil Kern told the council he had discussed the issue with Quinn O’Reilly, a League of Minnesota Cities attorney who specializes in drone-related issues.
“He recommended, at this time, that we don’t take any action whatsoever,” Kern said. “He said, currently, the FAA is in the process of developing rules and regulations for how to monitor and deal with drones throughout the country . . . Essentially, they’ve posted regulations for what you can and can’t do, and they are also studying how to tighten those up.”
Kern added that the FAA wants drone-related guidelines to be nationwide, and has challenged municipalities that have created restrictions that are different from FAA rules and guidelines.
Previously, the city was considering three options: prohibiting drones within city limits, designating areas for drone flying within the city, or issuing permits for drone use during special events.
“He thinks all our proposals would fall squarely into the FAA’s regulatory authority,” Kern said of O’Reilly. “Because the FAA already operates a registration system, he does not think the city could have its own permitting or registration system, which is what we were talking about.”
O’Reilly suggested that City Attorney Mark Johnson monitor any updates to FAA drone-related policies, and Kern said Johnson had agreed to do so.
Councilwoman Betsy Stolfa asked what residents should do if a drone is hovering outside their window or above their deck.
“Shoot it down,” Councilman Jack Russek said with a laugh. “It’s invading your privacy.”
Resident Rob Pendleton advised against ever shooting down a drone.
“To be spying on you, it would have to be someone who is mentally ill. I would call the police,” Pendleton said. “Don’t shoot it. If you shoot mine down, mine is registered with an intel number, that is just like shooting down a Delta airline . . . People talk about, ‘They’re spying on me.’ . . . The lens is made for wide-angle photos, that’s it. There’s no spying going on.”
“I’m not saying there is,” Stolfa said. “But, if we had to consider an ordinance, we’d have to consider what are the outliers of behavior, not the normal behaviors, but the extremes we’d want to protect ourselves from.”
She asked Kern how to answer questions about privacy if they arise.
Kern said the FAA has published a fact sheet regarding drones, which he planned to share with the council, but the online link to the fact sheet was not working properly. He emailed the FAA requesting the fact sheet, and said he would pass it on to the council once he receives it.
Delano first considered a drone ordinance after Pendleton reported that one of his drones was on top of the water tower, and an officer from the Wright County Sheriff’s Office who investigated the incident recommended that the city have an ordinance.
A representative from Delano Municipal Utilities told Pendleton it would cost him $200 to retrieve the drone, which resident Brad Felknor spoke out against.
“I want to make sure we don’t get in the way of people that are doing good things for us,” Felknor said. “When we were trying to get the Legion Market going, Tack wanted a picture so he could lay out the vendors. Who do you think took the picture? Who’s going to help Mark Davis stream this from a drone, the 4th of July, the greatest event we have in the city? We’re being pennywise and pound-stupid to charge a guy $200 when he’s doing so much for us.”
“There’s man hours, there’s insurance impacts, all these things cost money,” Stolfa said. “It’s not free for us to go up there. We’re taking public resources and applying them to this guy’s drone, who does good works, and we’d like him to continue doing them, but to ask the whole town to pay to go fetch this thing is not pennywise and pound-foolish.”
Kern reminded the council and the residents in attendance that the council has no jurisdiction over the water tower.
“Let me just clarify, we’re here to talk about regulating drones,” Kern said. “We have no authority over the water tower, we have no authority over the staff, we have no authority over the policy. If the five people here wanted to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll get the drone,’ we can’t . . . If you want to have the discussion, certainly, but I feel it’s the wrong place to have the discussion.”
He recommended that Felknor ask to be included on the July 18 agenda for the Delano Water, Light, and Power Commission, which operates DMU.
Pendleton said that may not be necessary.
“It’s my drone,” Pendleton said. “Trust me; that is not an issue. It’s been up there a year-and-a-half. When they told me it was $200, I said, ‘Keep it. If someone goes up there, let me know, and bring it back.’ I don’t have an issue with that. My only issue is if you want to restrict flying and overstep the FAA’s regulation.”
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved a request from Lupine Brewing Company to place five tables and accompanying chairs on the sidewalk in front of the building at 248 N. River St. Under the city’s newly-revised ordinance, alcohol may be served to patrons seated at the tables and chairs, which must be set back at least 5 feet from the street.
• discussed the possibility of selling three city-owned lots on the north side of Highway 12 west of Kelsey Street, which the Minnesota Department of Transportation gave to the city after the lots were not used for the Highway 12 expansion. City staff will approach the owners of adjoining properties to gauge if there is interest in the properties.
• discussed landscaping in the right-of-way of streets after Russek expressed concerns about weeds, exposed dirt, and blocks in the right-of-way of Third Street. Kern said the city has ordinances regarding noxious weeds and exposed dirt, and that city staff would inspect those properties. Kern also said both ordinances would be reviewed to add more definition in hopes of making them easier to enforce.
• approved hiring a part-time van driver for the Delano Senior Center.
• canceled the July 5 council meeting.