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Borough identifies Salcha site for drone research

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Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 10:53 am, Thu Apr 24, 2014.

FAIRBANKS — The borough has identified an area in Salcha to host an industrial park for drone research.

The borough hopes to attract businesses to Fairbanks that want to use the University of Alaska’s new permit to test unmanned aerial vehicles, said Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins. Drones aren’t allowed in most of the national airspace, but the University of Alaska was one six organizations around the nation that the Federal Aviation Administration picked in December to test the aircraft. 

To attract businesses, the borough wants to designate a tech park for drone research modeled after one in Grand Forks, N.D., Hopkins said. The Salcha area would hold a small airstrip and buildings for businesses. A 2.5 square-mile area of borough land along Johnson Road was picked as a good spot because it abuts the restricted airspace of the military’s Yukon Training Area. 

The borough took a first step toward creating the tech park with a community meeting Wednesday night at the Salcha senior center. This summer, Hopkins said he’d like the borough to apply to have the area designated a military facility economic zone, a designation the state legislature established in 2012 that would qualify the industrial park for state subsidies.   

The proposed tech park is part of a larger strategy to encourage unmanned aerial vehicle companies. The strategy also involves offering companies up to 10 years of tax deferrals or exemptions, Hopkins said. 

“If we’re competing with other states as I know we are, I want to be able to say, ‘Come here, and here is what we offer,’” he said.  

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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