The East Grand Forks City Council will give a remote-controlled aircraft club the chance to use city land on the north end for a temporary flying site despite pushback from residents living nearby.
The council unanimously approved an agreement May 17 between the city and the Red River RC Flyers club. The agreement spans three years but would be reviewed annually with language allowing for the city to cancel it at anytime.
Council members have largely voiced support for the project, which has been touted as a recreational asset to the community.
“I think communities get a reputation for being welcoming or unwelcoming,” council member Mike Pokrzynwski said. “I think we should give this group a chance and not slam the door in their face because the neighborhood is worried about their privacy. I understand that, but I don’t necessarily agree with it.”
With the surge in unmanned technology in the region, club President Tom Stennes said the site would be of use to many, including students at UND and Northland Community and Technical College and those employed in the unmanned aircraft industry.
Two temporary locations have been proposed for the site, the first on the city’s former landfill site located to the east of Eighth Avenue Northwest. Large dirt piles at the site would need to be moved, so while that work takes place, the club would use a backup location north of 140th Street Southwest between the city sewage lagoons and the Red River.
Once the city’s sewer lagoons are decommissioned upon completion of the interconnect project that would pump waste to Grand Forks for treatment, the club would seek to use that land for its flying park.
The city dump location has drawn protests from neighbors, who said the park would be a source of noise, traffic and privacy concerns, as some unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, come equipped with cameras.
Robert Wagner, who lives less than half a mile from the site, added the park could hinder development.
“I don’t believe something of this nature should actually be in within the city limits,” he said. “With anything, there’s a perception. The City Council recently has created a program to spur building up in that area. I feel that this would be shooting yourself in the foot.”
Another resident, James Wilson, who was unable to make it to Tuesday’s meeting, sent an email to the council on May 12 expressing his objection. He listed concerns similar to those outlined by Wagner.
“If this does pass, I will look to legal options to stop this from going through,” he concluded.
Both Wagner and Wilson said some people already had been out at the site flying aircraft, but Stennes and council members pointed out they were doing so without permission from the city. Efforts to identify those people have been unsuccessful.
“You’ve got a rotten apple,” Stennes said. “There’s somebody out there that’s not following the rules and pushing boundaries.”
The club is part of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which has strict safety guidelines for the flight of remote-controlled aircraft and drones. Included among them are rules saying members cannot fly over people and homes.
Club members would be the only people authorized to use the site unless the organization is hosting an event and welcoming other flyers to participate. The agreement between the city and the club does include an insurance policy in the event of injury occurring at the park.