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Turnout small, but concerns big over drone testing in Hernando

At a town hall meeting Thursday, Shirley Miketinac explains her reservations on drone testing in Hernando County to David Lemon, left, her husband, Pat, and Brian Moore.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

At a town hall meeting Thursday, Shirley Miketinac explains her reservations on drone testing in Hernando County to David Lemon, left, her husband, Pat, and Brian Moore.

SPRING HILL — While turnout may have lagged at Brian Moore's public meeting Thursday to discuss drone testing in Hernando County, those who did participate expressed big fears about the potential project.

Chief among them was David Lemon, a pilot at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. Lemon voiced concerns about the testing when the Hernando County Aviation Authority agreed last week to move forward in the application process, seeking to make the airport a test site.

The Federal Aviation Administration is seeking six such sites across the country, and Hernando officials are working with a drone support company, TaSM LLC, to put the county on that list.

At Thursday's meeting at the West Hernando/S.T. Foggia Branch Library, Lemon, a former member of the Aviation Authority, expounded on his concerns over how drone testing might affect the local community of pilots. The test sites would be used to find out how unmanned drones would fit in with general aviation activities like those conducted at the airport south of Brooksville.

Lemon wondered what would happen if it's determined that drones do not mesh with general aviation activities.

"What happens is I run into a drone and I kill myself,'' he said.

Lemon said he was worried that the authority was trying to push through a project without the public having a full discussion about its merits and potential consequences.

Moore, of the NatureCoast Coalition for Peace and Justice, said he and his group have had concerns about the use of drones overseas for some time, but the deployment of drones domestically poses questions about invasion of privacy, safety of citizens and the potential for "a financial boondoggle with the airport and the county.''

Shirley Miketinac cited information from a recent National Geographic article, which noted that drones can have issues with the signal that guides them and that some have crashed.

"Things can fail,'' Miketinac said. "We can't control it. We would be the experimental laboratory to see how to control this.''

Lemon said he feels resentment because the County Commission tends to rubber-stamp whatever the Aviation Authority recommends. While he pays for airport operations through his hangar rental, "I don't get to vote, and it just irritates me," he said.

He also said that, if drone testing is needed, it should be done in restricted airspace where there is more control, such as along the east coast of Florida — home to the Kennedy Space Center.

Moore said he was concerned about what the drones could be used for domestically, and he pointed out that, as a regular protester of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a time when sheriff's deputies would covertly observe his protests and take down license plate numbers to see who was participating.

"God knows what they're going to do with a drone,'' Moore said.

Miketinac said she plans to continue telling county commissioners of her concerns during Tuesday meetings, and she encouraged the other half-dozen people at the meeting to do the same. The group also decided to attend the April meeting of the Aviation Authority.

Moore plans another public meeting on drones from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. today at the Spring Hill Branch/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library on Spring Hill Drive. An ad hoc group, including Miketinac and her husband, will sponsor an anti-drone demonstration at the old Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Moore's group will be picketing after that, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport office, off Spring Hill Drive.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Turnout small, but concerns big over drone testing in Hernando 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:16pm]
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