Sen. Murray calls on Insitu

U.S. lawmaker discusses industry needs as well as privacy concerns

White Salmon and Bingen have been very popular with Washington politicians in 2012, even if it is an election year.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell came to town in April. Gov. Christine Gregoire stopped by in June. Most recently, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray visited last week and, like those who preceded her, made it a point to drop in at the Bingen headquarters of unmanned aircraft manufacturer Insitu.

Murray, who is the first female senator for the state of Washington, met with Insitu representatives during the early afternoon of Aug. 15 and took a tour of the company’s Bingen facilities.

According to Murray’s press office, the purpose of the tour was to “see firsthand the impact of federal investment on the local aerospace company.” Murray stated during the tour that she procured “federal money for research” for Insitu in 2003 or 2004, back when the company was, as she put it, “three or four guys in a garage.”

Murray marveled at the speed at which the 18-year-old Insitu has grown. The business now employs several hundred people in offices around the Gorge.

“It’s exciting to have a hometown company do so well,” she noted.

The tour included a viewing of the ScanEagle and Integrator drones as well as a look inside Insitu’s Rapid Response vehicle, which serves as a mobile command post. Murray got a crash course (no pun intended) in drone flying and called it “incredible” that the unmanned aircraft could be sent to a location simply by the click of a mouse button.

Murray, who is the chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, was asked in a media Q&A session about whether she was aware of the need for an overpass to traverse the BNSF tracks to Insitu’s facilities located at the Port of Klickitat. While Murray said she had “not talked to this company specifically about that,” the senator highlighted the importance of the federal government to provide good infrastructure.

“It’s an important partnership for us to be able to provide the place for a company like this to exist,” Murray said of Insitu. “Infrastructure is part of what we as a county have to invest in to help countries like this one grow.”

Growth, however, can bring new concerns. After the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill was signed in February, which allows for the full integration of unmanned aircraft into federal airspace by Sept. 30, 2015, civil liberties advocates balked at how an estimated 30,000 drones in American skies by 2020 would affect citizens’ privacy.

Murray, who voted along with Cantwell in favor of the bill, agreed that these were legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed as unmanned aircraft switch from military roles to domestic ones. She noted she had discussed these same issues with Insitu executives.

“I think it’s a conversation that we have to have as a community, as a country; everybody needs to know what the rules are and I think that if those rules really show that there is a way to protect their privacy and that we take into accommodation the needs and concerns of what the uses are and do it in a pragmatic way, that there’s a path forward,” Murray explained. “It’s a conversation for the future and we haven’t had it yet.”

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