October 24, 2001 11:00 pm
HIGH-TECH MAPPING: Assistant Union County Planner Scott Hartell works with geographic information system (GIS) computer software. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
HIGH-TECH MAPPING: Assistant Union County Planner Scott Hartell works with geographic information system (GIS) computer software. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The 21st Century has started, but maps of Union County are still drawn the 19th century way by hand.

The county plans to catch up with the times, however. County employees in the next two years will begin using a digitized map programmed into a computer.

The system that allows quick and thorough examination of maps is the geographic information system (GIS) that includes a base map with tax lot lines, overlay maps and computer software. The countys map is only one part of the statewide digital ORMAP being developed.

Going from paper to computer to build a super-map is a major undertaking, one that has been shared by county and state agencies, said assistant county planner Scott Hartell, who has organized development of the GIS.

County planner Hanley Jenkins said that a high degree of accuracy is essential in building the GIS. Before the conversion from paper to computer began, county surveyor Greg Blackman spent 18 months surveying certain points within the county.

Were building a system, Jenkins said. We wanted as high a level of accuracy as wed need. We spent one-and-a-half years getting ready to digitize.

To continue the high degree of accuracy, the county contracted with the state Department of Revenue to develop the digitized base map. When digitizing is finished, youll be able to point and click on certain features, Hartell said.

County officials are building on the base map by developing overlay maps that will tell the viewer the zone where a piece of property is located, as well as where the wetlands and winter wildlife zones are. A vegetation overlay will show areas of invasive weeds.

The GIS will access information and do analyses, Jenkins said.

An example of the expected efficiency is finding certain types of properties. For example, the GIS will tell a prospective farm buyer where existing farms are, their assessed value, and how the properties may be affected by streams or wildlife. It will not, however, have information about specific property for sale.

The county clerk will use the GIS to scan deeds, mortgages and the history of property ownership. The assessors office will note property transfers and access soil maps, showing the soil classification in an individual area.

It (GIS) will enhance our work and make it easier to do our job, said assessor Patty Gooderham.

Richard Comstock, public works director, said he expects the greatest value in the early years to be finding noxious weeds, whether on public or private lands. Location will lead to more efficient weed control, Comstock said.

The cost of developing the base computer map, $251,172, is being shared by the county, the cities of Union and La Grande and Avista Utilities, the natural gas provider. The cities and utility company each contributed $10,000 to the endeavor.

Other funds were raised through grants from the state departments or revenue and forestry and the U.S. Forest Service.

Hartell said the base map will be used by all contributors, who will develop their individual overlay maps to meet their separate needs.