West Bloomfield parks are a no-fly zone for drones

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 11, 2017

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Did you receive a new drone for Christmas and want to test it out? You can fly it, but just don’t zoom over to township parks.

In March 2015, the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Commission passed a rule banning drone operation in the parks.

“Many park systems followed suit when the National Park Service banned drones in all national parks in 2014,” Park Operations Superintendent Joe Ketchum said via email. “The commission prohibited the use of drones, first and foremost, for public safety concerns.”

He added that drones are “very noisy” and can disturb park users. 

Ketchum also said that the commission saw the potential of parents using drones to film their kids’ sports activities, which would interfere with the games and could possibly injure participants and attendees if they lost control of the drone.  

“Finally, the commission has concerns that drone use in our natural areas could have negative impacts on wildlife,” Ketchum said. “We would not like to see birds disrupted while nesting or deer chased by drones.”

The anti-drone rule might have gone unnoticed by some, but not to longtime West Bloomfield resident Howard Berenbon, 68, who attended a Dec. 15 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting to ask commission members to rethink their stance on drones. The commission didn’t budge.

Berenbon has multiple drones, from a $60 one that weighs a little over a half a pound to one that is worth about $1,000 and weighs about 3 pounds. He is also licensed to fly his.

Berenbon, a tech-savvy product reviewer and YouTuber, said that he likes to fly drones and review them. He had flown a drone at Drake Sports Park before learning of the ban on drones in the parks.

West Bloomfield Township Police Chief Michael Patton said recently that the Police Department has a drone file for when questions come up about the aircraft.

“Some of these questions come up fairly frequently,” Patton said, adding that there is no townshipwide ban on flying drones, pending Senate and House Bill 0992, which was introduced recently.

Per the bill, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act would allow a person to operate an unmanned aircraft system in Michigan only if the person is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate one for commercial purposes, complicit with federal law.

While on the national level the FAA can regulate unmanned aircraft systems, statewide, the bill would work to prevent patchwork ordinances, proponents say.

The legislation — which is currently on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for signing — would create a statewide Unmanned Aerial Systems Act to regulate drones. 

“Under the bill, it would prohibit municipalities from regulating or enacting ordinances for UAS,” Michigan Department of Transportation communications representative Diane Cross said in an email.

The legislation also would create a 27-member task force to develop statewide policy recommendations, Cross added in the email. 

In the meantime, Patton said that he is unaware of any drone ban outside the parks in the township.

He added that the Police Department has the authority, under the Parks Commission, to direct people to leave West Bloomfield parks if they violate the current ban. 

He said that last year, someone flew a drone in a park and was given notice.

“The person did comply,” he said, adding that the Police Department is not “trying to rain on anyone’s fun here. But like anything else, act responsibly.”

He said that with the bill, there is also concern over whether drones should be permitted to fly over government buildings.

“What about West Bloomfield police headquarters?” he asked. 

Patton added that in the “extreme” case, drones could possibly harm people working in local government buildings.

“People say, ‘Quit demonizing hobbyists,’” Patton said. “We’re not demonizing those things, but (it is an) issue where people need to be concerned about their safety or privacy.”

Berenbon disagrees about the privacy.

“They think we’re going to spy on people in the park, in (their) homes,” he said, adding that that is not his aim. He said that a great deal of the population has cameras and video capability on their phones. “I don’t think the privacy issues and the photos hold water.”

Berenbon said that he only wants to use his drone to add video footage to some of his blogs, and that even though he can fly the drone in the township under certain guidelines, there are restrictions.

“It is very hard to fly around your home. Most subdivisions have wires going across (and around the home),” he said of telephone poles. “You don’t want to fly it near buildings, and … if it is windy, it can be blown sideways; so you want to fly it in an open field. I thought it would be great to fly it on Marshbank Park.”

For more information on the bill, go to legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2016-SB-0992.

For more information on drone licensing and national regulations, go to www.faa.gov/uas.