Newton High to operate drones at East Park

By Blake Spurney

Newton Now

Scott McCloud outlined the unmanned aerial systems class Newton High School plans to offer next fall to the Board of Harvey County Commissioners on Dec. 31.

McCloud said Newton would have the fourth or fifth such course in the state. He said students only would be flying 15 percent of class time while the rest of the time they will be learning what to do with data collected by drones.

“Most of the flying will be done at Newton High School because we can fly quad copters and helicopters,” he said.
McCloud said students would fly fixed-wing craft at East Lake, which offers a wide runway at the county’s radio-control park. He anticipated having 15 students for the first course, the goal of which is to help students obtain a license and how to process data.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for employment,” he said.

Joe Owen, president of the Harvey County Radio Control Club, told commissioners that the county probably needed to begin the phase of developing the park that specifically addresses drones. The second phase involves developing a drone course and a race course.

Commissioner Ron Krehbiel referred to a recent news report of people threatening to shoot down drones flying over a city.

“I’m concerned,” he said. “You guys are going to have to keep on top of what’s going on out there.”

McCloud said as a licensed remote pilot in command he had to be ready to take over control of an aircraft at any time. He said the drones students would be using couldn’t be out of the operator’s line of sight and they couldn’t be flown at night.

County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber told commissioners that the county’s new recycling rules would go into effect Jan. 1. Commissioners adopted a resolution in November that eliminated mandatory recycling. He said cities in the county were still deciding whether they would be continuing their recycling programs. Waste Connections, the county’s hauler, notified the county that recyclable loads with contamination rates greater than 10 percent would not be accepted at the recycling station. Furthermore, any hauler with a load exceeding that rate will be fined $350 and banned from the station for 30 days.

Swartzendruber said Solid Waste Director Justin Bland would be on site Jan. 2 to monitor Waste Connections’ process for determining contamination rates. Under the contract with Waste Connections, contamination rates will be settled by commissioners or their designee.

“Who do you want to be the supreme commander of trash?” Commissioner Chip Westfall asked.

Swartzendruber suggested for Bland to be the designee since he would be at the station on a daily basis.
Commissioners agreed with the recommendation. Westfall said he didn’t care to go to the landfill every day.
“I was on call 32 years,” he said. “I don’t want to be on call again.”
Commissioners tentatively approved the $526,400 purchase of a 2014 Caterpillar scraper from Foley Equipment to replace a 1993 model at the construction and demolition landfill. Swartzendruber said they could lease the machine for $25,000 for up to four months and the lease payments would go toward the purchase price. He and Bland will assess the vehicle upon its delivery from Topeka to see if it will meet the county’s needs.

“This is the cheapest one around that I could find,” Bland said.

Swartzendruber said a scraper was used to move dirt at the landfill. Other options posed to commissioners were purchasing a new scraper for $850,000 or spending $350,000 to rebuild the power train of the 1993 model.

Commissioner Randy Hague asked about financing the purchase for up to three years to alleviate the financial impact.

Swartzendruber said former solid waste director Rollin Schmidt budgeted $70,000 to fix the old machine. The repair costs are now estimated to be about $108,000. He said items in the solid waste fund’s capital improvement plan could be deferred a couple of years. The deferment and a transfer of $450,000 from the solid waste fund frees up enough money to cover the cost of the 2014 Caterpiller, he added.

In other business, commissioners:

* Reappointed Keith Cowden and Lorrie Kessler to three-year terms on the Harvey County Food & Farm Council.

* Appointed Darrell Allen to fill out the unexpired term as Lake Township treasurer, replacing Casey Rump, effective Jan. 1. County Clerk Rick Piepho said Allen previously had served as treasurer and planned on running for re-election.

* Approved paying $94,389.95 to Gaynor Electric to upgrade campsites at East Park and West Park. Gaynor’s bid exceed the budgeted amount of $80,000, and the difference will come from the county’s reserve fund.

* Approved a revised fee schedule for the Harvey County Health Department. Director Lynnette Redington said a 3-percent increase in vaccine costs was reflected in the new fee schedule. Breast-feeding kit rental fees have increased from $15 to $25, which she said accounted for the largest increase among line items.
* Approved the health department’s request to apply for a Blue Cross and Blue Shield Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant. Redington said the grant funded the Healthy Harvey Coalition. Coordinator Lorrie Kessler’s salary is funded by the grant through August. She said the estimate to continue with the position for the remainder of the year was about $15,000.

* Adopted strategic planning goals for the county for 2020-24. Swartzendruber said the process began in October when department heads met with administrative staff about developing goals for the next five years. He said the goal was to improve decision-making, which benefits residents.

* Approved paying bills totaling $197,771.66 for the week ending Dec. 20 and paying bills totaling $82,324.99 for the week ending Dec. 27.

* Went into executive session for five minutes to discuss matters covered by attorney-client privilege.