County commissioners made it loud and clear Tuesday they want no part of drone testing at the airport.
All except one.
Commissioner Diane Rowden, the board’s liaison for the aviation authority, said Hernando County is missing out on the chance to be part of a burgeoning industry that could bring high-paying jobs to Hernando County.
Rowden urged colleagues to support a resolution that would have put the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport in the mix for consideration by the Federal Aviation Authority for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly called drones.
But her colleagues said there are too many safety concerns and were reluctant to bring something into the county that has not been thoroughly developed and lacks proper safety protocols.
County Commission Chairman Dave Russell said the resolution’s language raised too many red flags and is concerned about safety of pilots and the population.
“I am adamantly opposed to being a test bed for UAVs,” Russell said after almost two hours of debate.
Dozens of residents spoke about the possibility of Hernando County’s interest in bringing a drone testing operation to Hernando County.
Residents were divided over the idea, with critics citing a fear of the unknown with too many uncertainties. Others said the county should at least apply to see if the airport would be a good place for the drones.
Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut said his board voted unanimously to proceed with the idea with the understanding that the operation at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport could be stopped if it’s proved to be detrimental to the community.
Rowden urged approval of a resolution, which would have moved Hernando County forward in the drone application process, and also said the operations would enhance the county’s commitment to economic diversification.
“If we don’t do this, then what we’re saying is that we’ve never taken any opportunity to explore this,” Rowden said.
Hernando County has 12.6 percent unemployment and this would be a boon to this area, she said.
The drone industry could create as many as 100,000 jobs by 2015, she said, and Hernando County could be in the driver’s seat of the program.
Rowden said the application had to be sent to the attorney general Tuesday or Hernando County would be left out of consideration.
County attorney Garth Coller advised the board not to vote on the matter because the item was not advertised and given proper notice.
Rowden said she took issue with that because, in the past, commissioners have broached subjects without formal agenda notice.
County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he had “mixed emotions” about drone testing at the airport.
Dukes said he doesn’t doubt it would bring jobs to the county but could not support the resolution.
“The timing of this is extremely bad,” he said. “Never in my lifetime have the citizens that I’ve talked to been so afraid of the government. That’s the reality folks.”
County Commissioner Jim Adkins said he needed more information before making a decision.
Adkins questioned the liability if someone got hurt from drone testing.
“I’d do anything I could possibly do to get businesses in,” Adkins said. “(I’d) like to see a reality to this but I just have a lot of questions.”