Mosquito-control drone OK’d to take flight

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A drone to apply insecticide for mosquito control was approved by the Flathead County commissioners on Monday with a 2-1 vote.

The City-County Health Department had asked for a second time for a capital improvement budget amendment to pay for the remote-control piloted aircraft.

The $25,000 amendment will pay for the drone and related costs such as an HD camera and granular applicator. The county has been using all-terrain vehicles to get to hard-to-reach areas to apply insecticide.

An earlier request for a drone was turned down when Commissioner Gary Krueger wanted to review the county’s policies for aerial application.

County Health Officer Hillary Hanson said the county’s mosquito discharge plan has been updated. It was approved by the County Attorney’s Office and recently passed by the Board of Health.

Krueger voted against the capital improvement expenditure this time because he wanted to delay a decision until the Health Department has submitted its proposed budget for the coming year.

Commissioners Phil Mitchell and Pam Holmquist expressed their desire to move forward with the request.

“We’ve delayed it once; I wanted to move forward earlier,” Holmquist said.

The county used drone technology for mosquito surveillance for the first time last summer. The device was used to monitor flood-prone areas to gauge the amount of standing water. Hanson said the surveillance of larval habitats during the 2017 season using a drone was very successful in monitoring flooding and pinpointing sites that required physical inspection.

Because there is a 90-day testing period, the county won’t be able to fully use the drone this summer, but will be ready to use it during the summer of 2019.

Flathead County Mosquito Control is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and has a licensed drone pilot on staff.

The drone will not fly over private land without permission. Target sites include areas of large open tracts, along with areas that are difficult to access from the ground and exert excessive wear on the county’s current equipment.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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