Archive for February, 2020

Aerial Drone Trespassing Trial Wednesday

02/10/2020

We got this press release yesterday. Looks to be an interesting case that could create groundbreaking case law. We’ll be covering it.

Lincoln Parish Man Facing Charges of Aerial Trespass
Louisiana Seeks Jurisdiction of Airspace in Spite of FAA Warning and Lack of Statue

Ruston, LA, February 9, 2020: The Lincoln Parish courthouse in Ruston, Louisiana will be the focus of drone operators from across the state on Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 at 9:00am.

Mr. James Benson of Dubach, Louisiana has been charged with trespassing after flying a small drone in his back yard and briefly flying over a neighboring property at a height of 400 feet. The FAA, who was provided sole jurisdiction of airspace by Congress through the passage of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, allows drones to be flown recreationally up to height of 400 feet so long as they do not interfere with manned aircraft.

The neighbor, Mr. Matt Henderson, a sheriff deputy with Lincoln Parish, and his wife Erin Henderson took offense to the drone’s flight. Henderson’s colleague subsequently made an arrest and Benson was jailed for 12 hours. The alleged incident took place on April, 11th, 2018 while the arrest was not made until four days later. It is only now being heard by the Honorable Bruce Hampton as multiple prosecutors refused the case in over the past 21 months.

This case has significance in the budding drone industry as a verdict against Mr. Benson could negatively impact commercial drone operations around the state with the threat of aerial trespassing. It would also put Louisiana at odds with the FAA over jurisdiction of airspace and flight regulations. As drones are classified in the same realm as kites, weather balloons, and model rockets, there are potential consequences for those enthusiasts as well.

In 2015 the Chief Legal Counsel for the FAA warned against states or local governments creating or enforcing their own drone ordinances in an UAS fact sheet arguing that doing so creates a “‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow.” Similarly a case in federal court, Singer v. Newton City, MA, was decided in September of 2017 and struck down a local government’s attempts at preempting the FAA’s control of airspace.

While 17 states have passed laws over the last three years to specifically disallow local governments from attempting to usurp FAA authority over flight, this case sees Louisiana as the first state to challenge the Congressional Act that regulation of airspace resides with the federal government.

Louisiana’s trespassing law was recently modified to include drones. It states: “No person shall enter upon immovable property owned by another without express, legal, or implied authorization.” “For purposes of this Subsection, the phrase ‘enter upon immovable property’ as used in this Subsection, in addition to its common meaning, signification, and connotation, shall include the operation of an unmanned aircraft system as defined by in the air space over immovable property owned by another with the intent to conduct surveillance of the property or of any individual lawfully on the property.”

The incident and arrest took place four months before the state law changed to add unmanned aircraft systems. Mr. Benson claims there was no surveillance, but instead was purely recreational in intent and had no interest in his neighbor’s property or any persons on the land.

Attorney Jordan Bird is counsel for Mr. James Benson: https://www.cookyancey.com/attorney-profiles/jordan-b-bird/

Lengthy Police Jury Agenda for Tuesday

02/09/2020

The Lincoln Parish Police jury will meet Tuesday, February 11, Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor. Committee meetings begin at 5:00 PM, with the full jury meeting at 7:00 PM.

Public Works Committee – 5:00 PM
Agenda

Public Property & Buildings Committee – 5:30 PM
Agenda

Personnel/Benefits Committee – 6:00 PM
Agenda

Solid Waste & Recycling Committee – 6:15 PM
Agenda

Police Jury – 7:00 PM
Agenda

School District Gets Clean Audit

02/05/2020

The Lincoln Parish School District received an “unmodified” audit opinion for their 2018-2019 fiscal year books, Allen, Green & Williamson’s Margie Williamson last night told the monthly meeting of the school board.

An unmodified opinion is the best opinion that can be given, Green said, and means that the financial statements are presented, in all material respects, in accordance with applicable financial reporting framework.

She noted however, that the district’s fund balance had decreased.

Said Williamson, “The net change in fund balance for the general is actually a decrease of $3.5 million.”

Also, she said there were two findings, one of which involved monies at Simsboro School.

“Around mid-April, the principal contacted the athletic director and asked him to look into the baseball account. The baseball coach intentionally ignored school board receiving and expenditure procedures for the baseball fund. Throughout the year, he collected funds without receipting individuals who turned in money to him and he didn’t deposit these funds into the school account. The baseball coach stated that the funds he collected and didn’t deposit were used for various purposes, but were all for school purposes. But he didn’t provide any receipts for those expenditures.

Several issues were also noted where the bookkeeper didn’t follow the school board policy regarding student activity funds. There were numerous receipts written to individuals she didn’t actually receive money from. Most of the receipts reviewed had no documentation. Fund raisers weren’t tracked or reconciled.”

The second finding involved an inadvertent error in the health insurance fund.

The board head several reports from department heads, including the monthly personnel report

Lower Electric Bills for Ruston Likely

02/04/2020

Lower electric bills for Ruston utility customers are likely on the way because of a significantly cheaper rate from the power company that supplies wholesale electricity to the city.

Constellation Energy’s bid for a seven-year contract to supply power at a rate of $29.14 per megawatthour (Mwh) is considerably cheaper than the $40 per Mwh of the expiring five-year contract.

The Ruston City Council unanimously approved the new contract at last night’s meeting.

Said Public Works Director Darrell Caraway, “There will be some significant savings for our customers.”

Caraway added that the city has used Constellation as a supplier for over 20 years. The new contract takes effect June 1.

According to the FY 2020 budget adopted last fall, the city had estimated approximately $15 million in costs for power. That cost is marked up before it is resold to the city’s customers.

How much savings the customer actually sees will depend upon how much of the savings is passed along.

In other business, the council approved the acquisition of property to allow South Monroe Street improvements.

Also, approval was granted for engineering to begin on a project that will construct sidewalks along East Mississippi Avenue.

Dubach NOT on School Board Agenda

02/03/2020

As promised by Lincoln Parish School District Superintendent Mike Milstead last week, the issue of Dubach School is not on the agenda for tomorrow night’s meeting of the school board.

The meeting is set for Tuesday, February 4, 6:00 PM, Central Office, 410 South Farmerville Street, Ruston.

Here’s the complete agenda.

Ruston City Council Monday

02/02/2020

Ruston’s Board of Aldermen will meet Monday, February 3, 2020, 5:30 PM, Ruston City Hall, 401 North Trenton Street.

Here is the agenda.