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Bill would allow more restrictions on drone usage in local parks

Matt Davey
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
In this file photo, a sign conveys how drones are prohibited from flying at Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne during raptor nesting season from January until August. Senate Bill 812 would let city and county governments in Oregon ban the takeoff and landing of any unmanned aircraft in parks.

Oregon cities and counties could limit the use of drones under a bill that’s scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in Salem.

Existing Oregon law prevents local governments from regulating drones. Senate Bill 812 would let those governments ban the takeoff and landing of any unmanned aircraft, but only in parks.

That has some enthusiasts worried that concerns over irresponsible drone usage will result in a widespread prohibition.

Some regulation is a good idea, said Joe Miller, who lives in Dallas, Oregon and flies radio-controlled planes with a club there. Drones and other remote-controlled aircraft shouldn't be flown low over people, or used to take intrusive photos, he said.

But Miller doesn’t want a blanket ban in city and county parks.

“If you designate a spot that is safe, kind of away from the majority of folks, an open area…" he said. "Don’t just say ‘no, we’re not going to let anybody do it.'"

Miller said his club, called the Dallas Wingdingers, has a designated area just outside city limits, and is unlikely to be affected by the bill, if it passes.

"They're just out there to have a little bit of fun." he said. "We follow all the rules and fly as safely as possible."

The Portland Audubon Society supports the bill. In submitted testimony, the organization said an increase in drone usage in parks has disrupted wildlife.

"Parks provide critical habitat for dozens of bird species and millions of individual birds," wrote lobbyist Kyle Linhares on behalf of Portland Audubon. "We feel that allowing local governments to restrict drone activity on park land is a reasonable and prudent step."

Separately, the League of Oregon Cities, which also supports the bill, is trying to assure lawmakers on the Senate Natural Resources Committee that it's not suggesting cities and counties implement widescale drone bans.

"We’re not tying to ground the fun," LOC lobbyist Scott Winkels wrote in submitted testimony.

"Flying drones is a pastime that’s growing in popularity and is perfectly appropriate in some parks- but not all parks and not in every part of a park," he wrote. "Just like a city may prohibit radio controlled cars on ball fields, a city should be able to prohibit (unmanned aircraft) take-offs and landings where they are unsafe or damaging to wildlife."

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Chris M Lehman