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In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity

Posted By John Palatiello, Tuesday, June 2, 2015

There were three announcements from Washington, DC last week of which MAPPS members should take note.  Each was policy news that not only has national implications, but may create significant demand for geospatial data, and consequently, new demand for MAPPS member firms’ products and services.

The first was a sage grouse conservation plan.  Mapping of threatened or endangered species was one of the issues MAPPS Director Brian Raber (Merrick, Greenwood Village, CO) discussed in testimony before a Congressional field hearing in Colorado Springs, CO in 2012.  He noted at the time, that geospatial data contributes to “protecting wetlands and habitat in the central waterfowl flyway, and increasing the productivity of agricultural land.”

When asked about the new sage grouse plan Raber said, “The sage grouse habitat has been intensely studied by the federal government, universities, NGO’s and private companies over the past five years using many different types of geospatial data and modeling techniques. Merrick was involved with one such project that was awarded by the Department of Energy for approximately 120 sq mi in the Power River Basin. The Beaver Creek project combined LiDAR, color aerial photography and hyperspectral imagery as a basis for habitat assessment. This is a similar multi-sensor configuration that Merrick has used for other endangered species and plant habitat such as the bald eagle on the Missouri River, Blue Oak in California, and Kirtland’s warbler in the Bahamas. Our data was used by geologists, wild lands planners, and hydrographers to study these sites to determine impacts on the sage grouse in this coal mining region.  There have been, and will be, growing opportunities for the geospatial community specific to the sage grouse, however, stakeholders should rely first on two very mature programs to obtain four-band imagery and LiDAR. These programs are obviously the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), and 3D Elevation Program (3DEP). Moreover, multispectral satellite and hyperspectral imagery supplement LiDAR and four-band for additional scientific and geospatial analysis.”

When Raber, MAPPS Government Affairs Manager John “JB” Byrd and I recently met with Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the Congressman specifically asked how geospatial data can help resolve the Sage Grouse issue, which threatens land use and economic activity in numerous Western states.

Second, the EPA, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, issued the federal government’s final rule on “Waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act.  This regulation is controversial, and Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike may block its implementation. This too could have significant land use implications, as noted by groups such as the National Association of Counties and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“The recently announced ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule provides MAPPS members with various, additional business opportunities,” said Mark Brooks, Magnolia River, Huntsville, AL, chair of the MAPPS Emerging Markets/Emerging Technologies Forum.  “These opportunities include the surveying and mapping of elevation data required to define navigable waterways and their tributaries, along with any physical and measureable nearby waters. LiDAR and bare earth models are specifically noted in the rule as being useful in the identification of ordinary high water marks for tributaries. Further, the positional accuracy of “adjacent” and “neighboring” waters, as defined by the rule, will need to be determined due to the importance of location in reference to traditional navigable waters.”

Finally, the Washington Post  reported the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. HUD called the settlement "one of the largest redlining complaints" ever brought by the federal government against a mortgage lender. “Redlining” was the reason Congress enacted the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) in 1975. HMDA only collects data on a Census tract level, so MAPPS was a leader in 2010 to include a HMDA amendment in the Dodd-Frank financial services reform legislation to authorize mortgage data collection at the parcel level. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is charged with implementing the law, and has not yet acted on the parcel provision, notwithstanding advocacy by MAPPS.

Susan Marlow, Stantec, Nashville, TN, MAPPS President-Elect and Chair of our Cadastre Task Force, was a member of the 2007 National Research Council (NRC) study on "National Land Parcel Data." She said there is a business “opportunity to aggregate data from the local system to the State or the state to the federal level.”  She also noted a demand for “data normalization and addition of metadata where it is missing or inaccurate.”  The HUD settlement on redlining is significant, according to Marlow, inasmuch as the NRC “report notes that the origination of a parcel database starts at the local level where the transactions are based. The vision would be to have the local data aggregated to a designated state agency and that state agency would supply the data to the national designated party. This is happening successfully in many states including Maryland, Tennessee, Indiana, and about a dozen others.”  However, “there is no federal agency (HUD, BLM, CFPB) stepping to the plate to take the lead for the national database,” Marlow said.

MAPPS member firm principals responsible for planning, business development, and new markets should take note and keep an eye on developments in these three areas.

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