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GIS software useful resource for municipalities

MILLBROOK — Geographic mapping has advanced from a folded piece of paper that you keep in your car to online resources. Google Maps allows anyone to visually view their house at street level and supply them with directions on how to get there from any place in the world for free.From GPS systems for cars to websites like MapQuest, the way we use maps is changing everyday. Although the advancement of mapping has helped people get places faster and easier, it serves a much greater purpose when used for community development and environmental conservation.Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is key to understanding the technological advancement of mapping. “GIS is an extraordinarily broad term that can be applied to many different geospatial technologies,” said Neil Curri, senior GIS resource educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County (CCEDC). “Incorporating everything from the desktop software used to create geographic data and make maps, to the procedures used to create those data and maps, to the machines used to run those procedures, to the people devising and running those procedures and operating those machines and software.” Curri works in the CCEDC GIS Lab, which provides GIS resources to municipalities in Dutchess County and volunteers who are involved in municipal planning and conservation efforts such as the Conservation Advisory Councils (CAC), Planning and Zoning boards.CCEDC held a GIS on the web training session on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Curri provided training on how to use GIS software. The session was well-attended by CAC members from Pleasant Valley, Washington and LaGrange as well as those from Hyde Park and Clinton. Curri said that since the GIS Lab became a part of CCEDC in 2006 the interest among people in learning about GIS software has remained high. The GIS Lab decided to start a GIS Special Interest Group consisting of volunteers from several municipal boards and councils in Dutchess County. The group meets the fourth Wednesday of every month at the Dutchess County Farm and Home Center in Millbrook. It’s free to attend and it’s open to anyone.“The CCEDC Environment and Energy Program conducted a survey of municipal CAC members in Dutchess County in the spring of 2009,” Curri said. “Of the 30 respondents, 60 percent or more indicated that they would attend GIS training toward several different applications, including preliminary site plan review and water resource protection.”GIS for town planningIt was reflected in Wednesday night’s training that CAC members from local municipalities are taking advantage of the CCEDC GIS services. Howard Schuman serves as a member of the Washington CAC and the Millbrook Water Committee. Schuman is interested in GIS mapping and has been learning about it for the past five years. Schuman said GIS mapping could be a useful addition to the town for planning, however it is difficult to get people in government positions to learn how to use it.“They seem to be somewhat reluctant to learn,” said Schuman. “They’ll use the information but they are reluctant to dive into it. It’s a learning curve. You have some old-timers on the board who think it interferes with people’s property rights.”Schuman said that learning how to use GIS resources is easy with the knowledge provided at the training sessions. The sessions are designed primarily for volunteers serving on municipal boards and councils. During the training session on Wednesday, Curri showed attendees how to use GIS tools to answer basic questions about the natural resource assets and constraints to developing at a particular site. After learning how to use these tools attendees were provided with questions from a resource analysis assessment in the model subdivision regulations proposed by the former commissioner of Dutchess County Department of Planning and Development, Roger Akeley, and Senior Planner Lindsay Carille. After the session attendees could go through the assessment using the GIS online software and learn how a site falls under certain environmental limitations. Wednesday night’s program was aimed at raising awareness of the GIS resources available online to Dutchess County municipal volunteers and residents. Curri said that anyone could use the Dutchess County’s GeoAccess application to view wetlands boundaries, determine where the wetland boundaries overlap particular properties and measure distances between any of these features. “You couldn’t [compute] this information off the top of your head,” Schuman said. “But with all this software you can sit down and in an half and hour pull in what would take people days to go through county records to get. I see things people need to be aware of and preserve and consider. These are real parts of the environment, if you ignore them they’ll go away eventually because people will just destroy them.”The CCEDC is located in Millbrook; for more information go to ccedutchess.org.

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