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Change of address: County plans gradual change to latitude-longitude system

Sun Advocate associate editor

Carbon County is adopting a new method of assigning addresses, but don't look for any radical changes right away. The change to latitude-longitude addressing is intended to be, in the words of Commissioner Mike Milovich, "a work in process."

People who already have street and number addresses will be able to keep them. However, new housing developments will be addressed according to the new system, as will rural settlements in the county where addresses are either non-existent or confusing.

The ordinance considered at last Wednesday's commission meeting is the result of suggestions and lobbying by the country's Geographic Information Systems manager Ben Clement. In previous presentations on the addressing situation, Clement stressed that the county's current addressing system is a major problem for emergency responders because each city and the unincorporated county have different methods.

Some places, such as natural gas wells, have no addresses at all. Other places may have two or three different addresses.

With latitude-longitude, Clement has argued, each home, business, or wellhead already has an address, an address that is understandable to computers and navigation systems.

Milovich did not dispute the value of the new system for police, fire and ambulance response, but he did express doubts as to how much confusion would arise in areas where new developments abut existing addressing schemes. He suggested rolling out the new system in places like Scofield, Kenilworth, Clear Creek, Hiawatha and Beaver Creek - where there would not be as much potential for conflict with the traditional systems.

Clement himself noted that it would be "a mistake to try and clear out existing addresses because of so many records" on file with the county and cities. There is also no way to compel the US Postal Service the switch over to the lat-long system.

Ironically, the move to 21st Century addressing is relying on a method that has been used by sailors and explorers since the mid-18th Century. Satellite global positioning has refined the old system to pinpoint accuracy, but the concept of measuring by angles north and south of the equator and east and west of the Prime Meridian remains the same.

With this spherical coordinate system, every square inch of the Earth's surface, including the surfaces of lakes and oceans, has a unique address. As Clement explained earlier, a street name and house number are meaningless in conveying a specific location, but the grid numbering system will tell where a specific address is, and will let anyone know where it stands in relation to any other address.

County building official Dave Levanger, while expressing "full support" of the new system for emergency services and addressing new developments, still said he has reservations about how this will interface with existing addresses. "Maybe it's a generational thing, but I can see how some people will have a real tough time of it," he told the commission.

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