SOUTH SIOUX CITY | An Illinois drone advocate plans to file a federal lawsuit against the city of South Sioux City if it adopts a proposed ordinance to regulate drones.
South Elgin, Illinois, resident Keith Kmieciak, who has partnered with a Chicago attorney to fight drone regulations in a handful of Midwestern cities, told the Journal Thursday he believes the current draft of the ordinance violates federal law.
"No municipality can control the airspace within their city," he said. "The only thing that a municipality could do is limit or restrict (flight) from their property, meaning any public property."
Kmieciak's announcement comes days after the city decided to postpone further voting on the ordinance to conduct a more in-depth legal review, citing issues cities have run into nationwide in adopting such ordinances.
Kmieciak and attorney Jeffrey Antonelli, who leads the Chicago-based Antonelli Law Firm's drone practice group, have challenged drone ordinances in a handful of Illinois cities and villages, prompting changes in communities such as South Elgin and Evanston. Kmieciak said he plans to issue a cease and desist letter against South Sioux City and take further legal action if the ordinance moves ahead.
"We just got Evanston, Illinois, and we were able to get in there and they backed down on it," Kmieciak said. "We're comfortable with South Sioux City that we can get them to change their mind."
The South Sioux City Council on Sept. 11 passed the first reading of an ordinance that will require drones to remain within 400 feet of the ground, within the eyesight of the operator, during daylight hours and only over property for which the drone operator has permission to fly over. Drone flying would be banned near airports, electric facilities and wires, and water intake facilities. Violations, enforceable by local law enforcement, carry a $500 fine.
City administrator Lance Hedquist said the ordinance stems from a desire for safety and privacy of local residents and serves to embed the language of the Federal Aviation Administration's guidelines into city code.
Hedquist said the city is having a few legal experts review the ordinance, including the Nebraska League of Municipalities, before the city proceeds. He believes the review could postpone further voting for about 90 days.
Hedquist said Kmieciak has contacted the city with his concerns.
"We always want to listen to issues people have with any ordinance or action the city takes," Hedquist said.
According to a fact sheet issued by the FAA in December 2015, consultation with the federal agency is recommended before a state or local government implements restrictions on drone flight altitude, flight paths or "any regulation of the navigable airspace." However, regulations such as prohibiting the attachment of weapons to drones or the use of drones for voyeurism are within a local government's jurisdiction.
Kmieciak, 62, said he began advocating against city regulations of drone flight in September 2016, when he received a $50 citation for flying his drone in a public park. After discussions with Kmieciak and his attorney, the city rescinded the ticket and tweaked its ordinance, giving Kmieciak a permit to fly his drone in city parks with a few agreed-upon restrictions.