To update five-year-old aerial photographs, San Juan County must find partners to help cover the cost and must find a way to keep the update project from being destroyed by flak. The item is on the county council's Tuesday, March 12 agenda.
Most counties in Washington State update their aerial photography every two to three years, King County is switching to annual updates.
When the subject came up at the Tuesday, February 28, 2013 county Council meeting Council member Patty Miller raised concerns about privacy, Bob Jarman said there was no need for any more information and it was only used by real estate agents anyway. On Thursday, Jarman posted a message stating his opposition to the project on an anonymous Facebook page.
Besides providing updated aerial photographs which will show such things as shoreline erosion, the $140,000 project would also complete the county's LIDAR (Light Detection and Reading) information.
If enough agencies or businesses - federal, state, county, OPALCO, etc - can be found to partner on this project and if the council agrees, the project would go ahead. The county's share of the cost would come from grants which are obtained for GIS projects. These grants cannot be used for any other kind of projects.
In addition to the obvious value of having updated data, the new data would include the ability to determine the direction of a slope, and the height of trees. The data will be especially helpful with the implementation of the Critical Areas Ordinance, according to county staff. Information derived from just looking at the maps can eliminate some things.
It's not just the county permit/planning department or the assessor's office which use the data. It is used by E-911. It's used by Public Works for setting addresses, working on projects, etc. It's used by the public including real estate agents. One of the uses is through the Polaris Property Search on the county website.
Google Earth, which is compiled from numerous sources is not an alternative to the county's own aerial photographs. The county's mapping data cannot be layered into Google Earth. Google Earth, which is updated every few months depending where on earth one resides, uses several different companies each with their own systems. Here's an explanation of why agencies can't use it.
For more information on LIDAR, visit this NOAA web page which explains how it works.