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DANC to help municipalities seek grant for infrastructure digital mapping

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Digital maps that can pinpoint underground pipes by using geographic information systems soon could be made accessible to a handful of municipalities around Fort Drum, which could save work crews valuable time they now spend scouring old maps and digging in the wrong spots.

Development Authority of the North Country officials are making stops at board meetings this month to ask towns and villages if they want to apply for grant funding available from the state Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund to develop GIS mapping for water and sewer districts. Eligible municipalities in the region include the towns of LeRay, Pamelia and Philadelphia and the villages of Evans Mills, Philadelphia, Antwerp, Carthage and West Carthage.

Once participants are selected, the authority will evaluate the mapping needs of each municipality to determine what areas need to be updated, said Carrie M. Tuttle, DANC director of engineering. Some governments don’t have any digital maps available, while others have them only in limited areas. The deadline for municipalities to submit the grant application is Feb. 1.

As the lead municipality, the village of Antwerp would receive the grant. The state-funded project then would be required to enter the bid process with a request for proposals. The authority would complete the project if it is chosen by Antwerp after bids are received.

The authority has completed numerous mapping projects in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, Ms. Tuttle said, and works directly with municipal workers during the process. She said municipalities that have finished projects use digital maps daily.

“It’s saving them a lot of time,” she said. “It’s a huge loss of efficiency when they have to find buried utilities because of construction happening, or if they have a waterline break and don’t know where the valves are. It’s difficult to locate those valves when you have snow on the ground.”

Ms. Tuttle said making the conversion to digital mapping also is beneficial because it effectively and accurately stores valuable infrastructure information. Highway department supervisors who have the most knowledge about water and sewer pipes are able to help planners locate infrastructure for the project.

“A lot of these workers are approaching retirement and records aren’t in good condition,” she said. “But an operator who’s been there 35 years knows where they are, and we get all of the information that’s in his head and document it. It’s happened in many communities.”

Staff members in the town of Clayton, which completed GIS mapping in 2008, use the software to track data and pinpoint infrastructure on a regular basis, said Supervisor Justin A. Taylor. Available on the town’s website, the program enables residents to search and zoom in on aerial satellite images. By clicking on categories, residents can highlight everything from zoning and parcel boundaries to property assessments, fire districts, snowplow plans and more.

The possibilities are endless.

For example, “Today the Fire Department might want to see how many gallons per minute a hydrant flows, but the Water Department wants to know where the shut-off valves for the hydrant are,” Mr. Taylor said.

And for planning, “We plot where the zoning and building permits are issued and can see where there’s the most growth. If I’m issuing a lot of building permits on a road, I may need to plow it differently in the winter. From a long-term perspective, we may consider installing water or sewer,” he said.

Town residents also have used the mapping program as a useful resource, he said. Some residents have assessed property values they think are too high by comparing them with data from surrounding properties and looking at the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the square footage.

Before, those who requested zoning variances needed to measure distances precisely to neighboring properties less than 500 feet away to do so. A half day of preparation is whittled down to 15 seconds of work using the program.

“Now you can generate everything instantly, and it gives you the ability to create mail labels and customized letters” to send to other residents about the zoning change, Mr. Taylor said.

He said officials continue to upgrade the program every year by keeping tabs on new information.

“The next thing we want to do is track where dog licenses are,” he said.

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