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Protestors say no to drones in Hernando County

Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 11:29 PM

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Shirley Miketinac, who helped organize a Saturday rally against drones in Hernando County, said she was protesting with a group over the possibility of the unmanned aircrafts being tested at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

“I’m with a group called the citizens of the United States,” Miketinac said, explaining that a diverse mix of locals showed up in solidarity — Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, socialists, anarchists and Green Party members.

Many of the protestors had learned in the past week that Hernando County Aviation Authority was moving forward with an application to be considered a drone testing site for the Federal Aviation Authority.

Hernando County Commission Chairman Dave Russell said Friday there is “no appetite on the commission to pursue an experimental drone program” in the area.

Russell said the drones were not on the agenda for Tuesday’s county commission meeting and that further research on his part made him realize the program is not right for the county.

“I don’t see it moving forward,” Russell said, unless another commissioner is passionate about pursuing the option.

“There’s a sense of comfort when a breathing person is able to make decisions” in an aircraft, Russell said. “Let them figure it out, but don’t let them figure it out over Spring Hill.”

Many anti-drone demonstrators echoed Russell’s concerns about safety.

Debby Heckman, who held a sign reading, “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should,” said drones pose a safety and privacy issue.

“They have a 40 or 50 foot wingspan, and can drop out of the sky at any minute,” Heckman said.

Heckman, who has lived in Spring Hill for nearly 30 years, said people walking and driving through downtown Brooksville on Saturday morning were “cool” and receptive to the cause, with some stopping to sign the petition.

“I’ve given out a few American flags, and we’re waking up some people around here,” Heckman said.

When asked how drones violate Fourth Amendment rights, Matt Schnackenberg, chair of the Libertarian Party of Hernando County, said an individual could be driving a car and a drone could be “flying behind you, tailing you.”

“There’s the potential for you being tracked for no real reason, just to make sure you’re not breaking the law,” Schnackenberg said, adding the crafts — without a proper pilot — have the potential to lose control at any time.

“You have no idea where they are going to crash, it could be into a middle school,” Schnackenberg said.

John Mennie, of Spring Hill, said he’s not “scared” but “concerned” about drones.

“I’m not paranoid, but we should be concerned as citizens,” Mennie said, questioning if the lack of transparency and accountability in the drone program is an act of the federal government to control the masses.

Edna Mattos, a member of the Citrus County Tea Party, said that in order for drones to fly through the skies, people need to know they are not going to crash and are not being used to spy.

“The technology is advanced and I’m sure there are a lot of benefits,” Mattos said. “We need guarantees.”

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