ALPENA - It appears the state of Michigan is going to provide some needed funding to help the Alpena County Board of Commissioners in its pursuit for one of the "Center of Excellence" designations the federal government is going to distribute. If Alpena and other members of a special coalition are granted one of the designations, it could lead to Michigan becoming one of the leaders in the field of unmanned aircrafts.
Commission Tom Mullaney, who is the chairman on the newly formed Michigan Advanced Aerial System Center Committee, told the other commissioners after some challenges and miscommunications the Michigan Economic Development Commission is ready to contribute $500,000 to help have Explorer Solutions put together a proposal that will be submitted after the governments request for proposal details are received. Mullaney said to some it may seem the project is dead, but he said that is not the case.
"We finally got the verbal for the money, which will start up this portion of the project," Mullaney said. "This will give us enough money to established and put together what we have to show the FAA when it comes time to do the RFP. We were assured we would get the money and we expect by mid January or the beginning of February we will be up and going."
Mullaney said it still is not clear when the federal government will issue the RFP because there currently are several lawsuits that are questioning if the use of drones is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Mullaney said he doesn't think there will be any long delays because of the governments desire to expand the use of the unmanned aircrafts, both by the military and commercial entities.
"It was supposed to be issued in July, then it was delayed until December, and now they are saying January and that is because there are lawsuits," Mullaney said. "People are concerned about violations of their rights as far as drones peeking in their windows. It is a little far-fetched because the types of things most of them will be used for will be for looking for gas leaks in a line or if there is some sort of chemical leaking out of a pipeline. They would be able to find things like that from hundreds of feet in the air."
Commissioner Cam Habermehl also is going to update the Intergovernmental Government Council with the plans for drones at the airport at its meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Alpena Township Hall office.
In other business:
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.