2016-06-03 / Front Page

Goose Rocks discourages, but doesn’t ban, drones

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — While it’s stopping short of an outright ban on the use of aerial drones on Goose Rocks Beach, the Board of Selectmen hopes to discourage the hobby.

Following debate at their May 12 meeting, selectmen on May 26 discussed wording for signs slated to go up along the beach. The proposal before them read: “Beach use is through a public-private partnership. Please respect the privacy and tranquility of Goose Rocks Beach through NO DRONE use.” The signs also include the silhouette of a drone inside a red circle with a line through it – the classic icon for “not allowed.”

However, as selectmen have noted, it would take adoption of an ordinance at town meeting to actually ban drones from the beach. That’s why, despite the signs having the “not allowed” symbol, along with “NO DRONES” in all capital letters, the signs are more on the model of a request, rather than an order.

“I spoke to our town attorney, Amy Tchao,” Town Manager Laurie Smith said at the board’s May 26 meeting. “Her concern is that we certainly have some truth in advertising, that we don’t make it look like we are prohibiting drones if we don’t have an ordinance. But she was comfortable with this language.”

Smith said the town would likely install the sign at two or three locations. A dozen would be needed to post at every beach entrance, she said.

Still, some selectmen were dubious, especially of the circle with bar symbol

“That to me implies that we’ve got an ordinance. It’s an international symbol for ‘prohibited,’” Selectman Patrick Briggs said, suggesting people might be inclined to call police if they saw someone flying a drone in apparent disregard of the sign.

“I don’t think that would be helping at all,” he said. “I don’t think we ought to imply there’s a ban in effect when there’s not. We are making a respectful request. It’s an unenforceable desire.”

“But if people find out it’s unenforceable, aren’t we actually encouraging people to go down to the beach and fly their drones?” Selectman Ed Hutchins asked.

“We discussed it, and we thought that without a visual, the words probably would not get people’s attention,” Smith said. “The signage is walking that balance walk between the two worlds of trying to discourage use but not having rules and an ordinance in effect.”

The request to ban drones from the beach came from the Goose Rocks Beach Advisory Committee, which opined in an undated letter to Smith that drones use is “inappropriate” to the beach, given that jet skis are not allowed and even loud music from “boom boxes” is “unofficially banned.”

“Drones started flying over the beach and nearby homes last summer,” the letter read. “This has continued in the offseason. People have been driving to the beach and flying their drones over it from as far back as the bridge on New Biddeford Road.

“Two members of the advisory committee – one beach front and one on the river – had drones fly off the beach and over their homes last summer, apparently taking photos as they hovered for some time,” the letter claimed.

Selectmen declined at their May 12 session to sponsor an ordinance ban, given a lack of Federal Aviation Administration rules the town can lean on. Instead they promised to support an advisory committee request for signs discouraging drone use. The verbiage suggested by the committee was: “Drones are not welcome at Goose Rocks Beach.”

“Well, that’s not going to work,” Selectman Stuart Barwise said.

Fire Chief Allan Moir said his department does plan to use drones in any search and rescue missions, and would likely use Goose Rocks Beach as a staging area. That prompted a suggestion to add the words “for recreational use” to the sign proposed by Smith and Tchao, but Smith balked at that amendment.

“We’re starting to get very specific for a town that does not have an ordinance or a rule,” she said.

“I don’t see putting up the sign at all,” Hutchins said. “We can’t enforce it. You can’t legislate morality or common sense and that’s what we’re trying to do here. That’s a slippery slope.”

“I’m inclined to move forward since it’s already been vetted. Our attorney has already approved it,” Barwise said. “If we find they cause more problems then they solve, well then, they can always come down.”

Smith said police can act, even in the absence of an outright ban encoded in town ordinances, under nuisance provisions already in place.

“We encourage people to call about the drones, with or without the signs,” she said. “Each incident will be looked at individually, as they arise. Of course, we have had zero complaints, but we will see how they go.”

However, board chairman Sheila Matthews-Bull claimed there have in fact been reportable incidents, already.

“One was cited for looking into windows on the beach,” she said.

Selectmen split on how to massage wording of the proposed signs, or whether it should include any kind of graphic, with Smith suggesting more review might be costly.

“She [Tchao] was happy with this, but I’m happy to pay her to review more wording if you like,” she told selectmen.

In the end, selectmen elected to table the measure and await feedback on the proposed sign wording from the advisory committee.

“We did suggest to them that we would embrace the use of a sign,” Barwise said. “We were clear in that we did not want to adopt an ordinance.”

South Portland also is considering a drone ban at Willard’s Beach, facing Casco Bay. However, in that case, the beach is within five miles of an airport, a perimeter in which use of drones is banned by the FAA. In Kennebunkport, the beach advisory committee letter noted, Goose Rocks Beach is one of the few places where drone pilots can maintain visual contact with the unit at maximum distance, another requirement of FAA rules.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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