Cook’s Valley Drone Story

I am a model airplane enthusiast and one of my hobbies is photographing Silica Sand mines. I collect pictures from all over and from anyone, and display them on my personal web site:

I got permission from Vickie, a local farmer to fly my Drone from her property and photograph the Cook’s Valley Silica Sand Mine, across the street from her farm.
Her health has been adversely effected and her cows are coughing since the mine’s Silica dust started blowing onto her property.
She called the DNR about this, and relations between her and the farmer whose land the mine is on have suffered badly.

During the shoot, on the way back from the mine, the Drone’s battery gave out and I had to land (not crash) in a farmer’s alfalfa field. Apparently he rents it back from the mine.
Since I have some $2800 invested in Bird, I went out there looking for it, met the farmer’s son who seemed sympathetic at first and appeared to be looking for it himself, but after an hour and several cell phone calls from somebody, informed me that I was being cited for trespassing and please get off the property. I did so, and later that day was interviewed by the Deputy Sheriff at my home.
Apparently the Deputy Sheriff had talked to the manager of the mine and was told that Vickie, who was also the town clerk, had hired me to photograph the mine. Were this true I would have been in violation of section 336(c) of the law, and I was well aware of this.

At any rate Local News 18 did a story about this which you can view here:

Despite the lawyer’s claims, you do not own the airspace above your property, the FAA does, and except for designated areas like the white house, military installations, and airports, photography is allowed most everywhere.

At any rate, our local Sheriff called the mine about this incident and found that they had found the Drone.
The mine insisted that both I and Vickie be cited for trespassing three (3) times since I had walked on three different sections of land. The Sheriff refused and said that only one citation would be issued. The Mine manager then told the Sheriff that they would keep the Drone if he would not issue 3 citations.

The Sheriff told them that the Drone was not theirs, they knew it belonged to me, and it should be returned. If they did not return it, they would be charged with theft. The Sheriff was told to expect a visit from their lawyer.

Two days later, not having heard from the mine or their lawyer, the Sheriff called the processing plant North of the mine, and was put on speaker phone since the Mine’s manager happened to be in their office. Again our Sheriff was told that unless he issued 3 citations, they would confiscate the Drone. This discussion went on for some time until the Sheriff said: “Listen closely; today is Tuesday. If that Drone is not on my desk by Thursday afternoon. I will speak to the District Attorney and charge all of you and the mine with theft!”

Thursday afternoon the mine’s Lawyer appeared at the Sheriff’s office with the Drone and handed it over.

Not satisfied with a trespassing citation, the mine called the FAA and enjoined them to prosecute me for invasion of privacy. Since for tax purposes a corporation can be termed a “person” the mine claimed that Wisconsin law provides them privacy as they destroy the many acres of forest and farmland they bought.

You may hear the term “Reasonable Expectations of Privacy” in future stories, which is used to describe situations like sunbathing in your fenced back yard, or what goes on inside your house, which obviously should not be filmed from drones or actually any photographic platform. There are already laws that cover this.

Mine Lawyers would like the FAA to bless that term with respect to them, and get that term to cover what goes on in a farmer’s field or a mine site. They do not want to us see the destruction and mess the mines create. So far, the FAA’s position seems to be that hobbyists can (safely) fly where they wish.

Back when these mines were in the planning stage, much was said about how the land would be reclaimed when the mining ended. What with the low oil prices and lack of demand for sand, many mines now are barely operating or “temporarily” idle. In fact they are going broke, and the likelihood of successful soil reclamation, in my mind at least, is less than zero.
The pictures and videos you have seen on are the true State of Wisconsin now, and what we will leave for our children.

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