Baltimore, Maryland (Reuters) – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has said no state aid would be available for a project that would use drones to examine polluted water and sediment on the Great Lakes.
The state Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Transportation have announced the start of a pilot project to test the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on water-covered wetlands on the lakes.
The project is a joint venture between Maryland-based SEo Analyzer and the Federal Aviation Administration, which is expected to start using the drones to collect data and provide data to the state and federal governments.
The UAVs will be operated by the Baltimore-based company Seo Analyze, which will be responsible for overseeing the operations of the project.
A representative for the FAA said in a statement the agency had no immediate comment on the project, which was not immediately available.
“The FAA is committed to using all appropriate methods to ensure that any use of such unmanned aerial systems will meet the highest safety standards,” the agency said in the statement.
“Any use of the drones in the state of Maryland would be subject to all applicable state and local laws.”
A separate federal investigation into the project began in April 2016.
Federal prosecutors said the UAV’s sensors could detect pollution levels ranging from 0.3 parts per million to 6.4 parts per billion (ppb).
They said the drones would be able to detect levels between 0.2 ppm and 1.5 ppm.
Federal investigators said in December that they found the drones could pick up signals in polluted waters at a rate of one per second, compared with a maximum of 20 per second for a traditional vehicle.
The drone was first spotted by a seabird in the Great Lake region, according to an August 2016 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The report said that during a test flight the drone was able to pick up pollution readings that were up to 200 times higher than the legal limit.
The FAA said it was aware of the drone project and was cooperating with the state in an ongoing investigation.
A statement from the Maryland Department of Public Works and Infrastructure said that the agency “does not intend to grant any financial aid” for the project because it was not a commercial project.
The department said it would not grant any additional permits for the drones, but it would work with local government and other partners to ensure the drone would be safe and use it as a source of information.
In May, Hogan said he was “extremely concerned” by reports that the drones were causing pollution in the waters around Baltimore, and he urged the FAA to review the use.
He said in May that the state was working to “create the conditions for people to be able, once again, to have an informed conversation about our waterways.”(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Michael Robinson in Baltimore, Daniel Drezner in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao)