As Hurricane Irene churned toward the Eastern seaboard in late August, preparations were already under way in state emergency operation centers along the East Coast. One of the states arguably most prepared to deal with the hurricane’s aftermath from a data standpoint was Maine. A recent LiDAR project along the Northeast coastline
had generated a wealth of data that could be used to quickly pinpoint areas of erosion and could help with response and recovery efforts if the hurricane inflicted substantial damage. Although much of the data from the six-state project was still being processed, a dataset of the northern Maine coastal areas had already been delivered and accepted.
As it turns out, Maine was spared the brunt of the storm. Instead, Irene ravaged Vermont—the one New England state that had been cut from the Northeast LiDAR project. With the available project dollars limited, and the USGS focused on collecting data along the coastline, Vermont had been unable to participate. It was a challenging yet necessary call for the decision-makers. Perhaps even more troubling is that an increasing number of difficult choices lie ahead as federal budget constraints inevitably limit the amount of spending on data collection efforts. The LiDAR project along the Northeast coastline was made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—and no similar programs are currently on the horizon.
Each natural disaster underscores the need for accurate, reliable geospatial data. Unfortunately, this need is increasingly at odds with the shrinking budgets of state and federal government agencies. What does this mean for the future of national mapping initiatives?
John Palatiello, in his column in POB
’s September issue, explains why a “gas tax” for geospatial programs
could offer a viable solution. What do you think? Is establishing a user fee and revolving fund the answer to ensuring continued progress toward a comprehensive nationwide dataset? How would such a plan be best implemented, and how should the money be spent?
Please share your thoughts below.