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GIS could help towns with broadband access
COUNTY — Leaders in rural towns throughout Maine are getting an opportunity to learn more about their towns than ever before, thanks to a new technology-based system that is being offered through the state.
Groups throughout Maine are working to develop Geographic Information Systems (GIS) parcel data for the entire state to support the expansion of broadband availability, said Sebago Technics GIS Manager and Surveyor Jon Giles.
As part of the state's Broadband Initiative, Sebago Technics, a consulting firm with offices in Westbrook and Lewiston, is working with the Maine Office of GIS and ConnectME Authority to map broadband availability down to the address level. The goal is to provide high-speed broadband coverage to different parts of the state, said Giles. According to Giles, the GIS data collected from each town will help with this process.
"We are reaching out to the towns that we've identified as likely candidates for the program," said Giles.
"We want to map out as many of the parcels we can in Maine," said State GIS Manager, Mike Smith.
According to Smith, as part of the broadband mapping initiative, the Maine Office of GIS is partnering with the University of Maine in Machias, which covers Hancock and Washington counties, and the University of Maine in Presque Isle, which covers 15 towns in the Presque Isle area.
According to Giles, Sebago Technics, Inc., in Lewiston and Spatial Alternatives in Yarmouth, both GIS consulting firms, have teamed up to create a preliminary list of towns in the Oxford County area interested in the project. He said that, with the digital parcel data and digital tax assessing data the towns provide, the companies will be able to create a GIS parcel map for each town.
GIS, short for Geographic Information Systems, explained Giles, is "computer mapping."
"It's not just the graphical map, but it's also the data that you can store within the digital mapping, like the road the parcel [of land] is on," he said, "and because we are mapping parcels, [towns] will get a sense of where the property ownership is, and where the different tax parcels are."
So far, said Giles, the Oxford County towns that have been contacted about the project are Fryeburg, Gilead, Greenwood, Hanover, Newry, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Rumford, Stoneham, Stowe, Sweden, Waterford, West Paris, Woodstock, Buckfield, Canton, Dixfield, Hartford, Hebron, Mexico, Peru, and Sumner.
"Some towns have expressed disinterest in participating in the program," said Giles, "and some are still pending their decision."
According to Giles, towns use GIS data to build comprehensive plans. He said that it helps towns to "visualize the density of lots in a particular part of town, and [learn] where there are greater development pressures, or a greater population concentration in that part of town."
As a first step, said Giles, the towns are being asked to provide copies of their existing tax maps and tax-assessment data. The next step, he said, is that both companies will combine the data in the mapping software used to produce maps.
"In the case of some of those towns, they have never had this sort of data before," said Giles, "or if they did, it was done many years ago, and it may be outdated."
Giles said the goal of the project is to create updated versions of tax maps using existing data. He said there is no real cost to the town, other than assisting companies with collecting existing tax maps and assessing data.
According to Giles, there are a number of towns in Maine currently participating in the broadband mapping project.
"Some of the larger municipalities do it," he said, listing Bethel, Acton, Bar Harbor, and York. "We also do a bit with the development community. It's a great economic development tool. ... It's an essential tool for managing existing resources and services that towns are trying to provide."
Once finalized, said Giles, each town, as well as the state, will be provided with a composite GIS file representing the individual towns' tax parcels, linked to each town's assessing information.