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AL Environmental Agency May Use Aerial Enforcement During Inspections

Wed August 31, 2005 - Southeast Edition
CEG



MONTGOMERY, AL (AP) The environmental agency assigned to keep Alabama’s land clean may take to the air to do its job.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is considering using a plane equipped with high-tech tools to detect pollution problems, department Director Trey Glenn said.

ADEM officials showed off some of the technology for the media July 28. Using a chartered plane, they carried a laptop equipped with global positioning equipment and detailed computerized maps of the 30,000 sources of pollution in the state. From 2,000 ft. in the sky, they could check to see if rock quarries, dirt pits, industrial plants, landfills and major construction sites had any readily visible problems. They also could spot sites that should have environmental permits but that didn’t show up on their maps.

On a flight from Montgomery to Auburn, ADEM’s chief of field operations, Steve Jenkins, spotted a major construction site east of Montgomery that did not appear to have an ADEM permit, and he saw a stream near Auburn that was murky for no obvious reasons. He made calls to the headquarters in Montgomery and told staff members to check on both.

“You can cover a lot more ground a lot quicker. You can see things from the air you might never see from the ground,” Jenkins said.

Jeff Martin, executive director of the League of Environmental Action Voters, said he’s just learning about ADEM’s interest in aerial reconnaissance, but he’s “all for it,” provided the agency has the manpower to follow up quickly on problems it finds.

Jenkins said the agency will respond quickly, and it will be helped by an increased appropriation from the state General Fund budget approved by the Legislature. The agency’s appropriation will grow from $4.52 million this year to $4.96 million in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. He’s also hopeful of getting a federal grant.

Other state agencies use aircraft for aerial reconnaissance. For instance, the Alabama Forestry Commission uses them to look for pine beetle infestations in forests, and the Department of Public Safety uses them to look for plots of marijuana.

The Environmental Management Commission, which oversees ADEM, has asked the agency to look for more efficient ways to do its job. Jenkins said the agency is looking at leasing a plane like a Cessna 208 for approximately 500 hours of flying time annually at a cost of $300,000 to $350,000.

The plane also could be equipped with cameras that detect heat and gas emissions, he said.

Jenkins said the agency has made no decision yet about aerial surveillance, but “my preliminary assessment is yes, it will save money in the long haul. We can move faster and better.”