BROOKSVILLE — As the Hernando County Aviation Authority members discussed bringing drone testing to the airport on Thursday, they were warned by a member of Sen. Bill Nelson's staff that there might be opposition.
Some concern was voiced at the meeting but this grew on Friday when news of the authority's action appeared in the Hernando Times.
Brian Moore and his Naturecoast Coalition for Peace and Justice announced Friday that the group would hold an anti-testing protest at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport today and next Saturday from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. The coalition sent a letter to Nelson urging him to drop his support of the authority's efforts.
Moore and his group started protesting American military involvement in the Middle East about a decade ago and recently began anti-drone protesting. Just last month, they held two protests over the Federal Aviation Administration's efforts to look for six test sites nationwide for drone testing.
In his news release on those protests, Moore wrote that people are growing "increasingly apprehensive" of attacks and killings by drones overseas, as well as "the ominous threat on our own soil and against our own civil liberties, privacy and physical well-being by planned actions of US civilian and military government agencies.''
That request for proposals by the FAA is what the aviation authority has responded to by issuing a letter of intent with help from Nelson's office. That is the first in a series of actions the county must take leading up to making a formal application to be a test site.
The point of the testing is to find out whether domestic drones can operate within unrestricted air space.
The application process is complex but the county reached out to a company that provides drone support internationally — TaSM. TaSM is seeking test sites in two other locations as well, officials said.
Moore contacted county Commissioner Diane Rowden early Friday to ask her why she supported the county's effort. He said in his news release that he was disturbed by her "support of such an effort and for her carefree attitude of seeing no potential problem with the drone application.''
Moore was also disappointed that Rowden thought it was a chance for the county to be involved in "cutting edge'' technology that could create jobs and for suggesting that "portions of the public who oppose such efforts are paranoid.''
Rowden said that is exactly what she told Moore.
"This is just the next step in aviation,'' she said. "It's not about invading privacy.''
She also took issue with Moore's criticism of Nelson for helping with the process. Nelson merely accepted the letter of intent and is providing the support that senators offer constituents who are navigating through complex federal project rules, Rowden said.
Gary Schraut, who chairs the aviation authority, said the group has not committed to applying. It has just put itself into position so it can apply after further research. He also wasn't surprised by the opposition.
"I would expect that there would be people who would be afraid of the unknown," Schraut said. "They might have thought that the world was flat or no one could fly or no one would ever walk on the moon.''
Moore plans two public meetings. The first is Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. at the West Hernando Branch Library; the second is Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Spring Hill Library.
The plan is to discuss drones and whether Hernando County should seek a test site. Additional demonstrations at the County Commission or at congressional offices will be planned after the meeting, according to Moore.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.