Navy examines restrictions to private drone operations; operators push back

At the request of the Navy, Kitsap County is reviewing national security issues and concerns releated to private drone operations over Naval Base Kitsap facilities.

NBK facilities include Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Keyport Underwater Warfare Center, Naval Hospital Bremerton and the Manchester Fuel Depot. The recreational use of drones has grown immensely in popularity in recent years. Retail drones must no longer remain in the line of sight of the operator, according to kitsapgov.com. Newer model drones have flight cameras and batteries that last much longer than previous designs.

“This conversation is not brand new,” Kitsap County Policy Manager Eric Baker said. “We are heavily concerned with drone oversight. Through public process and a series of reviews, our staff worked with the Navy to come up with an exemption process.”

According to kitsapgov.com, drones could potentially be operated to intentionally or unintentionally cause harm or disruption or could be utilized in the planning and execution of a wide variety of criminal or terrorist activity. They also have the capabilities to monitor or record individuals while intercepting recorded data such as cell phone calls or text messages.

“The Navy is a huge component of our community,” Baker said. “Drone overflight can have a big impact on national security. We are just trying to illustrate what drones are capable of.”

Kitsap County officials met with the Navy, commercial and hobbyist drone users, and property owners to construct a draft of regulations for public discussion. Some of the key components included:

• Reductions to the regulations regarding the 3,000-foot area around the Manchester and Keyport locations;

• Streamlining the exemption process with a web-based portal established to notify the Navy and Sheriff’s Office prior to any flight;

• Removal of the approval requirement for exemptions prior to a flight;

• And removal of language regarding reckless or unsafe flights.

One of the commercial drone users, Robert Zollna — a drone photographer for Sound Publishing — is hesitant about whether these proposed regulations will have much of an impact. Zollna attended the open house proposal meetings March 11.

“The biggest concern was people didn’t like the Navy pushing influence out beyond their borders,” Zollna said. “If the concern is a bomb, all these planes flying by should be a bigger concern. The Navy is making it a security concern when there are bigger security concerns.”

Zollna also talked about how the Navy is “infringing on property rights and forcing local municipalities to pay the brunt of the bill.” He also said there is value to what commercial and hobbyist drone users do.

“The legal and responsible drone operators doing it for a living are doing it safely,” Zollna said. “This new rule is not going to deter the problem that they’re having.”

A public hearing will be held in late April or early May on the proposals, Baker said. Afterward, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners may make a decision to put the proposal into place or discuss the issue further.

Tyler Shuey is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be contacted at tshuey@soundpublishing.com.

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