Natural Resources Inventory slowed down by technology

Friday, June 5, 2009 | 6:29 p.m. CDT

LAKE OF THE OZARKS — During a presentation about the Natural Resources Inventory at the Columbia City Council retreat, City Manager Bill Watkins emphasized the importance of the databases that will become available as a result of the long-awaited project.

The inventory maps and analyzes natural resources in Columbia by compiling written information and databases from regions across the city. 

“We want you to understand there are really two pieces: a document — and that document is really pretty general — and the databases,” Watkins said. “The value for the Natural Resources Inventory is in these huge, huge databases."

The project is expected to produce a written document for the fall.

“The document will be up and available in October,” GIS Coordinator John Fleck said during the presentation. “When it’ll be online is less clear.”

The databases collect a wide range of information that can be used by the council and the general public.

“We want to get to the point where we can say, 'If you do this, here’s the impact,'” Watkins said. “We were not able to say that on the original stream-buffer ordinance. Now we can tell you to the square foot what the impact is going to be if you take a stream buffer from 30 feet to 40 feet.”

Some of the information that has been gathered, including tree coverings and park acreage, is now being used internally. But the delay in having the whole project up and running is mainly tied to technological issues and “cleaning up” the data, Watkins said.

“This is cutting-edge stuff,” Watkins said. “I don’t know of any other community doing this. We’re kind of the guinea pigs, and so we’re having to work out some bugs.”

Both Watkins and Fleck mentioned Google maps when discussing the ways similar databases have managed such large amounts of information.

Watkins and Fleck expressed concern at the difficulty in making the data readily accessible to the public.

“There is lots of data behind this,” Fleck said. “Some of the data sets are really enormous. And the question is, how do you trim it down to fit a Web-based application?”

Watkins told the council that there were still real costs to be handled even after the data had been collected. He discussed the need for new servers to handle the information and the fee adjustments such upgrades would require.

Council members' questions about the need to keep the inventory up to date led to discussions about the money that would require. Fleck said annual updates would be good, but that cost issues would prevent more frequent updates.

“We hope by the time we retreat in 2010 we’re going to be able to show you how all this works,” Watkins said.

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