Mapping assists in tower permitting
GIS has been used in Martin County, Fla., for a number of years by all the usual suspects: property appraisers, planners, emergency managers and county commissioners. However, the county’s officials never realized how valuable it could be until they needed to rewrite their local telecommunications ordinance.
Unlike the rest of the county’s information, files for cellular towers had never been very organized, simply because, until 1997, there were not that many towers to keep up with. That year, however, the county was suddenly inundated with requests for tower permits and tower construction, according to Deborah Potter, an appraiser with the county’s Property Appraisers Office (PAO). It would have been virtually impossible to sort through all the paper files in a timely fashion, so the county partnered with the GIS Department to compile a report for the county commission.
Potter obtained data from the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation to get as much information about the county’s communications towers as possible. She then passed the information to GIS Technician Richard Lawton, who was assisting her in creating a GIS. Each tower was assigned a parcel control number (PCN) that corresponded to the PAO database. Potter then used PCNs to identify properties with towers, and sent letters of notification and forms to the property owners to request updated information on the towers. She also had to ensure that she had the most current information and inspected many of the towers herself. Potter then compiled a complete database with assessment details, maps and photos of the county’s 95 towers.
“GIS was extremely helpful because the board needed to know the location of existing towers,” says County Administrator Russ Blackburn. “We wanted to limit the number of towers while still providing the service, and GIS helped the board make decisions about where towers were needed and where they were not.”
“Without GIS, I would have had to sort data map page by map page and interpret longitude and latitude,” Potter says. “The teamwork between GIS and PAO really paid off.”
In addition, Potter’s 1998 reassessment of the tower properties added $3.5 million to the county tax rolls. “We’re very proud of our GIS,” Blackburn adds. “We’re now realizing the fruits of that investment.”
That investment will likely pay off again when the county completes a mapping project with the Public Services Department (PSD) designed to reduce insurance costs on public land. Working with the Florida Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), PSD is creating digital flood maps that involve overlaying GIS data with hurricane storm surge projections.
The project will allow the county to determine which areas are likely to be hit hardest by storms. Additionally, the county is using that data to identify protected wetlands. Martin County is preparing a report to be reviewed by FEMA in the next few months. Upon approval of the report, the county will likely have its insurance rating reduced through the Community Rating System. Lawton says county officials are hoping for a 15 percent decrease in insurance premiums, which would total $750,000 annually.