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Drones won't fly over Fort Ligonier this weekend

| Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

Don't expect to see any drones flying over the heads of French and Indian War re-enactors at Fort Ligonier Days this weekend.

Organizers briefly considered employing drone photography to get a head count of festival attendees but safety concerns — such as a drone interfering with radio transmissions or hitting a building — caused them to reject that method.

“Imagine what may happen should it hit East Main about 11:30 on Saturday when they'd be over,” committee chairman Jack McDowell said. The festival parade will begin at 11 a.m. on Main Street.

One challenge organizers face each year is calculating how many people attend the outdoor festival marking the 1758 battle at the fort.

“You always hear the number 100,000,” McDowell said. “That's probably accurate over three days, but we don't know.”

The committee considered employing drone photography to help with a head count, but rejected that method, he told borough officials.

On Monday night, borough council unanimously adopted a resolution to prohibit drones during Fort Ligonier Days Friday through Sunday.

McDowell told council the committee looked into having a person capture aerial images of the festival using a drone, but after learning that the device's radio frequency could possibly interfere with the frequency used by volunteers and emergency personnel, both the committee and photographer decided against it.

He said the Federal Aviation Administration and Westmoreland County, which appoints the authority board that oversees Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, have not yet addressed policies for drones.

“In this day and age, everything is changing so fast that the FAA in the county hasn't even caught up to these things, and there are risks,“ McDowell said, “so, authorizing a resolution to restrict them, I think takes us off the hook.”

Councilman Jim McDonnell asked how it would be possible to stop someone who has a drone from using it.

“You can't, but at least you won't be liable if something happens, because you did your due diligence to try to stop them,” McDowell said. “Obviously, anybody can be sued. A good lawyer can beat anybody at anything anywhere, but it's at least an effort to discourage it.”

McDowell said the photographer reported that his friend's house was struck by a drone, causing significant damage.

Council made a resolution to address the matter because it did not have enough time to pass an ordinance in time for this weekend's festival.

Secretary Paul Fry suggested council consider banning the devices for any special events.

Solicitor George Welty said council should explore the issue and get information from the county to craft “something more permanent for next year.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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