Longmont may have a few extra eyes in the sky when it needs them.
The Longmont City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to work with Iron Ridge, a maker of unmanned aircraft that is setting up shop at Vance Brand Municipal Airport. Once in full swing, the company expects to sell 12 to 18 small drones a month, at $30,000 a pop.
“We’re helping a local company get …. uh, get off the ground,” Councilman Gabe Santos said, chuckling in mid-sentence. “And we’re making the airport an economic tool.”
The drones (technically “unmanned aerial systems” or UAS) would normally have to follow model aircraft rules, staying below 400 feet and not too close to the airport, to keep from interfering with air traffic.
But the council’s action allows Longmont to pursue a federal Certificate of Authorization (COA) that would let Iron Ridge fly higher for the city’s purposes. That could include activities such as monitoring the spring runoff, checking on hard-to-reach city infrastructure, or feeding information to police and fire during a major emergency.
“It saves time and saves lives,” Iron Ridge CEO Dan Ganousis said.
Most of Iron Ridge’s private customers will be in agriculture, where the small craft can be used to pinpoint areas of farmland that need water or pest treatment, he said.
The battery-powered craft can carry about 12 pounds and stay in the air for about two hours. Except during special activities covered by the COA — such as emergency response — Iron Ridge would not be allowed to fly the aircraft over urban areas.
In flight, the craft would generate 30 to 60 decibels of noise to those below.
“If your neighbor’s mowing the lawn, you won’t hear our bird,” Ganousis said.
“If it goes down on private property, what happens?” Councilman Jeff Moore asked.
The same thing that happens when an aircraft or parachutist does, airport manager Tim Barth responded: The airport contacts the property owner, explains what happened, and asks for permission to come in and make things right.
“That’s why we have the insurance policies,” Barth said.
Iron Ridge is required to carry insurance of up to $1 million per incident.
The Federal Aviation Administration plans to integrate drones into the national airspace by 2017. Six states have been designated test sites. That list doesn’t include Colorado, but that doesn’t mean testing can’t occur in the state.
Ganousis said the company expects to attract some of its parts suppliers to the airport as well.
The council also approved the sale of $40.8 million of bonds to roll out a citywide fiber-optic network. Voters gave permission to sell up to $45.3 million of bonds in November.
City finance director Jim Golden said the bonds are expected to have an “A” rating, with a maximum annual payment of about $3.83 million starting in 2017. The sale date is currently set for April 1; that could be moved to April 7 or 8, Golden said, if the city looks into bond insurance.
Construction will be done in phases with a planned completion date of 2017.
“Congratulations,” Councilman Brian Bagley said to Golden and to Longmont Power and Communications director Tom Roiniotis, before moving to approve the measure. “I think this is kind of a milestone of doing something really cool in our city.”
Bagley then grinned.
“I was going to move we quash it,” he joked, “just to watch Tom Roiniotis squirm.”
The Longmont City Council voted 4-3 to amend its road agreement with Synergy Resources, shortening it to a 10-year agreement instead of a 20-year one.
The agreement, approved in January, allows the oil and gas company to build a gravel road from Weld County Road 26 to its well site, crossing Longmont-owned land to do so. That permit was opposed by several opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking; after that approval, the city negotiated some changes, including the shorter time frame.
Other conditions include full automation of the wells so they can be monitored around-the-clock, dust abatement on the road, and third-party monitoring of the site’s emissions.
Council members Jeff Moore, Polly Christensen and Sarah Levison voted against the amended agreement.
“I did not support the original agreement because it wasn’t necessary and wasn’t logical, and I won’t support this,” Christensen said. “It’s not what the people of our city want.”
Contact Times-Call staff writer Scott Rochat at 303-684-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org