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Use of technology by area governments improves efficiency, services September 14, 2008

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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Some months ago when Cleveland public works engineering technician Tonya Young was reviewing a piece of property, she wondered why a creek neatly edged the site’s boundary.

Back at the office, it took just a few mouse clicks to compare aerial photos of the site. Early shots showed a creek meandering through the property. But after some bulldozer work, later images had the creek running along the border.

“There have been several instances that things like that have happened and we’ve been able to take our topography on our GIS database to validate our claims that changes have been made,” Ms. Young said.

The photos are part of the technology that ties together on a map information about property that includes tax assessments and elevations, land use zones, flood plains and locations of creeks, watersheds and wetlands. The maps show roads, bridges, sewers, water lines, gas and underground electrical lines.

Bradley County is among the small but growing number of Georgia and Southeast Tennessee municipalities that are either fully online with multiple databases or are bringing their Web sites up to date.

This information is invaluable to government employees and residents for planning, Ms. Young said.

“We have all our information live on our Web site,” Ms. Young said. “People can search by address or name or other parameters and see all the data live. When I update it at my desk, it’s updated live on the Web.”

The city has been working for nearly 15 years toward this goal, she said. It took two years just to gather all the data to put into the system, she said.

“But now, if we are planning an engineering project and we think we have a great spot for a bridge, sidewalk or road expansion, we can call up the spot and see that there is a 10-inch water main underground so we know we can’t go there,” Ms. Young said. “We do that here, instead of running around to 15 difference places to get information.”

Super information highway

Most communities that have GIS capabilities on their Web sites started out by upgrading emergency management systems, such as the 911 call system, local government officials said. Federal and state grants helped with the costs, representatives said.

“I’ve been working for two and one-half years trying to sell this product to Rhea County 911,” 911 director Shane Clark said. “At the last board meeting in August, I just got approval from the board.”

Partnering with area utilities helps to offset the costs of consultants, training and data collections such as the aerial digital flyover set for January 2009, Mr. Clark said.

“The imagery is going to cost $30,000, but we are going to spread that over the other agencies. Middle Tennessee Gas wants to have ao map that shows the gas lines, the main meters,” he said.

With GIS mapping, officials can know everything about a location, Mr. Clark said.

“They can see how many buildings are on the site and how far a building is situated off the road, identify any vital services that are nearby, and they advise the officer,” Mr. Clark said.

The data comes from a variety of sources including satellite photos, paper records and direct entries from people in the field.

Walker County has been completely live for about a year, county administrator David Ashburn said.

“The county uses GIS in planning, zoning, industrial and commercial development,” he said. “We have a 2-foot contour capability, which means when you look at a map you can tell what the elevation is. Most maps have 5-foot capabilities.”

Such close elevations allow engineers to estimate the amount of site preparation needed at a building location from the computer rather than visiting the site, Mr. Ashburn said.

PAYING THE CHECK

Local officials said cost is the biggest reason that small communities don’t invest in GIS technology.

Mr. Ashburn said it would be difficult to specify an exact dollar amount but the county has invested around $600,000 since the 1992 911 update.

Catoosa County commissioners this week will discuss contracts for maintenance of GIS information, county clerk Melissa Hannah said.

The county recently had new digital flood maps drawn up and there are plans to buy a set of digital aerial pictures, she said. The flood maps must be approved by FEMA and the county before they are loaded on to Qpublic, the county’s GIS Web site.

“We will probably have to have those aerial photos done every five years, as fast as we are growing,” Ms. Hannah said. “People really should look at their parcels because things are changing so much.”

Bradley County has been working over the last several years to gather the information needed for a GIS program and should be ready to load data within a year, GIS director Wayne Owenby said.

Marion County doesn’t have its own Web site, and cities such as South Pittsburg are not considering GIS programs at this time, city manager Tom Landers said.

There is a lot of free information through federal and state Web sites and through browsers such as Google or Yahoo, the officials said. But the quality isn’t always as good, and the information is not all compile in one place, officials said.

“Twelve hundred dollars buys a GIS packet,” said Karen Velliquette, a GIS consultant from Roane County, Tenn. “You can get data free on the Internet and beg and borrow from other counties, and as you build it, create a cache of information on streets, water boundaries, aerial photos. It’s a good starting point.”

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