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Often overlooked, county GIS has new mapping system

The Pictometry system in action shows the county fairgrounds from a restrainedly perspective. The system can be used to illustrate specific heights of buildings or other structures as the 39.23 feet shows above. While the system still needs some imagery to complete its view of Carbon County it is almost complete with North, West, East and South views of nearly all urban areas up to a six inch resolution. Images will be updated every two years and in case of natural disaster, will be updated for free.

Sun Advocate reporter

The Carbon County Geographical Information Systems (GIS) department is an often- overlooked facet of county government. The staff at GIS undertakes more tasks than simply mapping out the county. They also assist with numerous aspects of the planning and zoning process. They help with everything from insuring accurate property lines to providing information regarding drainage issues.

In a new effort to more accurately represent Carbon County, the GIS department has nearly finished installing a new computerized aerial mapping system. This system allows users to view multiple angles of a single area as well as to measure distances and view property lines with up to a six inch resolution in urban areas of the county. Called Pictometry, the program is run by a company of the same name from Rochester, New York. The program offers a wide variety of new options for mapping the county.

"Every part of the county will have an ortho image (top down) and more populated areas will have the ortho with an additional four perspectives (north, west, south and east)," said Brock Fausett, a county GIS specialist.

The system and its capabilities were first demonstrated to the county planning and zoning commission in early October. Although its installation wasn't complete, it was apparent that it would soon be a powerful tool. Part of what makes Pictometry so useful is that it can measure distances far more precisely than any previous system with just the use of a computer. Additionally, it can be used to research all public information on properties. In some instances, Pictometry has been utilized by law enforcement.

"It's not survey grade from the ground, but it will get you in the ball park," said Fausett.

In most areas of the county, the resolution is up to about 12 inches, but urban and populated areas are higher with six inch resolution along with perspectives. In addition, topographic elevation levels have been added underneath the image layer to create a detailed lay of the land.

Previously, the county relied on aerial images photographed in 2006 that did not have the type of resolution that the new system has. In addition, they were also expensive and time-consuming to produce.

"The 2006 ortho was put out by the state, but many of the images were taken by us hanging out of a plane with a camera," said Fausett.

Pictometry, on the other hand, utilizes a special camera array to take the photos. This array, along with other pieces of its equipment and software, allows the company to turn out up-to-date images in less than two months. When photography of Carbon County first began last April, it was almost 100 percent complete by July, except for some areas that were obscured because of cloud cover. Nevertheless, the photographic process was still very fast. The company will also routinely re-fly every two years and also make an additional flight if a natural disaster occurs (in this case, for free). By contrast, Google Earth's images are dated back to 2006 and, in many cases, are out of date.

Natural disasters are, in fact, a lucrative source of the company's earnings because insurance companies like to have as complete information as is possible. In areas such as Florida with frequent hurricane occurrences, the company conducts a lot of business. But, back in Carbon County, events such as forest fires or landslides are more common. The GIS department hopes Pictometry will be an asset in dealing with these types of occurrences.

"In the old days, aerial mapping was more of an art than a science, but now it's really amazing on the quality and speed of the images that are produced," said Mr. Fausett.

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