Breckenridge eyes new law to regulate drones
Breckenridge Town Council is poised to act where the Colorado Legislature has not, as council prepares to take up a proposed ordinance on Tuesday’s meeting agenda to regulate unmanned aerial drones.
Passage of an ordinance clearly spelling out what drone operators, commercial or recreational, may and may not do in Breckenridge would come as welcome news for people like Mike Gamache, who runs the website ColoradoMountainLife.com.
On the website, Gamache shares various videos, photographs and articles about local activities and businesses. It also serves to promote his freelance video-production business and as a forum where people may share their own experiences, videos and pictures.
Posted online are a number of Gamache’s videos, some of which feature footage taken high above the ground that was clearly shot with a drone.
Reached over the phone, the videographer said he has worked with drones as recently as spring 2015, when he was sidelined by an injury and could do little else, but he gave up on drones after deciding the risk wasn’t worth the reward.
“If I could understand clearly what the rules are, I might be doing it every day,” he said. “But it’s just not a liability worth taking on at the moment.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the lead in trying to get a handle on the booming drone business, issuing regulations for operators flying the machines both as a hobby and to make a buck.
Other cities and states have also passed laws regulating drones, but as highlighted at the Breckenridge Town Council’s latest work session on Aug. 8, all state and municipal drone laws must run parallel with current FAA’s guidelines, and Colorado has not yet taken up the issue.
The FAA rules on drones include operators maintaining a clear line of sight with the unmanned aircraft. The FAA also imposes restrictions on where people may fly, how much the drones can weigh and on their uses.
Federal law imposes stricter rules on commercial drones than it does recreational or educational flights, but the problem really isn’t one of regulation as much as it is about enforcement.
That’s because, according to town officials, with a small staff, the FAA has little ability to enforce laws it has on the books, save the most egregious infractions. As a result, Breckenridge town staff came to council on Aug. 8 pushing for passage of a local ordinance.
The issue came up shortly after drone flights were reportedly interfering with efforts to fight the Peak 2 fire, and on Aug. 8 town staff told council a local ordinance would allow Breckenridge police to step in and fill the gap.
The proposed town ordinance borrows much of its language from federal law, and if passed, it would address reckless and careless operation, voyeurism and interference with law enforcement, firefighting or other emergency operations.
Piggybacking on the FAA, the proposed ordinance would specifically ban drones from flying more than 400 feet above the ground; weighing more than 55 pounds, including equipment, payload and fuel; and from flying over top an individual or crowd without that person’s or people’s consent.
Additionally, if the ordinance passes as written, it would ban people from flying drones in a handful of restricted areas, including the Cucumber Gulch Preserve, Carter Park Dog Park and the town’s golf course and Nordic center when any golfers or skiers are present.
“If I understood what I could do, I would be using the technology to make some really cool videos to show the world,” Gamache said as he expressed support for a local ordinance. “But, like I said, it’s a liability that’s not worth taking on right now.”
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