South Sioux City Drones

Phil Wieseler, left, South Sioux City High School's help desk manager and robotics club adviser, poses for a portrait with a drone next to Lance Swanson, communications director at the school. The city of South Sioux City is in the process of passing a drone ordinance.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Drones zipping through the sky in South Sioux City will soon fall under city regulation. 

With an eye toward safety and privacy concerns, the city is in the process of adopting a new drone ordinance that would regulate drone flight within city limits. The council passed a first reading last Monday.

According to the ordinance, drones must 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 carry a $500 fine. 

The ordinance limits use of drones for hobby and recreational purposes but would not restrict those with the proper licensing to operate commercially in accordance with FAA guidelines. 

City Administrator Lance Hedquist said he knows of several local drone users, and the city wanted to put in place local guidelines on the books to protect residents' rights to safety and privacy. 

"The real issue is privacy," he said. "Can I take and have a drone look through your window? Most people would say no."

Hedquist said there had not been any specific instances locally that led to the city's ordinance, but it grows out of an awareness of incidents nationwide. The city's ordinance refers to a 2014 Washington Post investigation that found 23 reported drone accidents and 236 unsafe incidents since November 2009. 

Lance Swanson, the South Sioux City School district's director of communication and foundation, is one of the South Sioux City residents who owns and flies drones. He said he's also seen a few of the youth in his neighborhood fly, but hasn't heard of any irresponsible drone usage inside city limits. 

"Regulations are already pretty strong on it, and certainly I probably am even a little more sensitive since I've had time as a pilot," he said. "I never go very high with it." 

Swanson has occasionally been the city and police department's eye in the sky, helping provide video footage of new building development and investigation scenes. Phil Wieseler, the school's help desk manager, brought out a school drone last week to help the department survey the scene of a fatal shooting at the Law Enforcement Center parking lot

Swanson said he's not sure if local drone usage is increasing, but it has become a growing part of school curriculum. Over the past few years, the South Sioux City School District has integrated drones into its robotics club and middle school STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -- units.

"There's a lot of learning, and I think it adds to our robotics programs," he said. "Part of the fun is crashing and rebuilding them."

Swanson said drones have been a popular draw for the Dakota County Extension summer robotics programs, as well. 

A clause in the resolution introduced Monday referred to drones as an "exciting new technology" and said their use for hobbies and recreation "will undoubtedly inspire a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators to pursue careers in this field and in related high-tech industries."


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