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April 20, 2014

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Government:

Board approves funding to prepare for drone site selection

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Richard N. Velotta

Ikhana the Predator drone waits for a mission at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

The Nevada Board of Examiners has recommended approval for $1.4 million to be used for research and other items if Nevada is selected as one of six sites nationally for testing of drones.

Steve Hill, director of the state Office of Economic Development, told the board today that Nevada was v for drone testing by the Federal Aviation Administration, which indicated it will name six locations by the end of the year.

Board Chairman Gov. Brian Sandoval said he was optimistic that the state would be one of the six sites chosen for the the high-tech unmanned aerial vehicles testing.

If Nevada was chosen as a test site, companies would come into the state and pay a fee to use its facilities and air space. Hill estimated that 15,000 "good-paying jobs," at an average salary of $62,000, would be created if Nevada got one-sixth of the drone business.

He said possible testing locations would be the Fallon Naval Air Station; Stead, north of Reno; Desert Rock in Southern Nevada; and the Boulder City Airport. Sandoval said after the meeting that Creech Air Force Base in Southern Nevada was another possible site.

Sandoval also shared how, on his recent economical development trip to Israel, he talked with Premier Benjamin Netanyahu about locating research units in Nevada. He said a company with 50 percent of its business in the United States could be a possible applicant.

The governor asked Hill about Amazon's announcement about delivering packages by drones to customers in 30 minutes. Hill said he did not see that happening in the near future and that those types of drones probably would be used in less-populated areas.

Sandoval noted that UNLV and UNR are now offering courses in the field of unmanned flight vehicles.

In their 2013 session, the Nevada Legislature set aside $4 million to help the state to get selected for this drone testing. The $1.4 million will be drawn from that with the approval Dec. 9 by the Legislative Interim Finance Committee. The money will be used by the state to hire private companies that will provide security, flight testing services and that a risk management system.

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In other action, the board approved $5.6 million to fund more doctors and psychiatrists to care for mentally ill patients in Clark County.

The state's contract with Family First Medical LLC is being increased from $1.5 million to $4.5 million and is being extended for two years. The state has also signed a contract with Focus Mental Health Solutions for $2.6 million for three psychiatrists to work in Clark County hospital emergency rooms and treat patients at the state's Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, which has been the subject of controversy in the treatment of patients.

A team from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid conducted an inspection of the hospital earlier this month. The facility could lose its Medicare payments for patients if required improvements were not made.

Nevada's chief medical officer, Dr. Tracey Green, said the inspection team's findings will be released in three weeks to a month. But she said the federal inspectors had good things to say about the changes at the hospital and she did not expect a loss of federal funds.

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