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Potential Drone Test Site Spurs Concerns In San Diego Back Country

Photo by Claire Trageser

A model of a drone at the Restore the Fourth protest, July 4, 2013.

Aired 12/4/13 on KPBS News.

San Diego County is on the federal government's list of potential test sites for drones, and while local business leaders are on board, at least one community is opposed.

Julian resident John Raifsnider believes drones have eyes, and wandering ones at that. He worries that if San Diego becomes a test site for the technology, the government might use it to spy on local citizens. He’s also troubled by potential fires if a drone crashes. And he has a slew of questions: What effect will drones hovering over the county have on wildlife? Who will regulate their use?

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to decide this month whether to designate San Diego County as one of six test sites for unmanned aerial systems known as drones. While business groups are elated at the prospect, back country residents are raising concerns.

In Julian, activists with Back Country Voices are hosting a public meeting Wednesday evening aimed at getting answers about safety and privacy issues.

“The purpose of the meeting is to illuminate and educate the public and to let the people know they have a voice,” Raifsnider said.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation views a drone test site designation for the region as a bonanza. The group says the drone industry could inject $90 billion into California’s economy over the next decade, create 18,000 jobs and generate $70 million in tax revenue.

A posting on the organization’s website in October stated that San Diego is a good fit for drone testing.

“Not only do we have one of the most diverse testing sites in the U.S., but we also have a strong private sector that would help support a testing site. Companies such as 3Drobotics, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and 5d robotics provide a well-qualified talent pool to help the sector thrive.”

The organization believes drone technology could be the next big thing since the Internet.

"Much like the Internet is now used for everything on the Earth, unmanned systems have a pretty wide breadth of potential uses," said Matt Sanford, manager of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. "Public safety, surveying natural disasters, power line checks, making agriculture more efficient."

The public meeting in Julian on drone testing will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Julian Town Hall at 2129 Main St.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | December 4, 2013 at 8:13 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Camp Pendleton is huge, they can just test them up there.

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Avatar for user 'Startaster'

Startaster | December 5, 2013 at 12:43 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

What is our priority?

Consider our choice here:

1) Humanity. Nature. Beauty of life.

2) Money. Money. Money.

Case submitted for the public to decide.

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Avatar for user 'BackCountryVoices'

BackCountryVoices | December 12, 2013 at 10 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

The legislate and the Hearing Committees and opposition to it, has been repeatedly ‘postponed,’ and ‘Held under submission’ since 5/24/13.

The function of the legislative branch, namely Congress, is to pass laws; the job of the executive branch and its many agencies and administrations is to enforce those laws; and the function of the courts is to interpret and apply those mandates.

Administrative agencies often act as rule makers, rule enforcers, and, to a great degree, arbiters of conflicts that come from different entities and public opinion, if we're given our rightful opportunity to do so.

The law requires that when the 'Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM)' is issued, the administrative agency must allow for public comment upon that rule. Unfortunately, in the County of San Diego this has not been then rule.

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