Citing infringement of privacy and concern for staff who inform violators of infractions, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday postponed proceeding with plans for using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to monitor illegal cannabis grows.
It’s unknown when the drone issue will return to the board.
UAS, also known as drones, are already used substantially in the county, Supervisor Heidi Hall said.
“Drones serve as a wonderful process: for environmental restoration, rescue, river safety and Realtors,” said Hall. “But a number of egregious growers are getting away with (noncompliance with permits). I remain uncomfortable with using drones as part of our enforcement policy. The guidelines are reasonable, And I agree with concerns of privacy. It’s a tough issue, but I feel conflicted.”
Supervisors voted unanimously to table the issue until the Building Department and development staff return with a more detailed report.
Both Craig Griesbach, county building director, and Jeff Merriman, county code division program manager, made a pitch for drones as an effective tool to bring illegal growers into compliance. Merriman pointed out that the uses of drones would still respect residents’ privacy and would only be deployed to those maintaining illegal cannabis fields. He also noted that 32% of growers who are noncompliant could be added to the permitted cohort if persuaded to follow regulations.
“We’ll still rely on a citizen complaint-driven program,” said Merriman. “We’ll use drones as an option of last resort. We have all planned flights approved for use and only certified, trained personnel to assure we’re following all regulations in the use of drones.”
Griesbach and Merriman stressed the benefits of drones, including increased safety of staff who would avoid traveling to rural areas where there is no radio communication. They also explained drones are more cost effective than