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County offers high-tech computer mapping

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

From finding boat landings or directions to an obscure cemetery to obtaining property tax data on a parcel, Beltrami County's GIS Web site puts computerized mapping data at the public's fingertips.

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Beltrami County's online mapping, offered through its Geographic Information Systems Department, features a public site and a subscription site, the latter through a property tax portal, says Jane Mueller, GIS division director.

The site free to the public is accessible through the county's main Web site, www.co.beltrami.mn.us.

For $40 a month subscription fee, people can gain access to even more public information, such as all the survey records in Beltrami County, she said.

"Over 30,000 records have been scanned and are in here, available for people to view," Mueller told the Bemidji Sunrise Rotary Club on Tuesday morning. She's making the rounds of community groups to let them know what kind of resource is available to them on line from Beltrami County.

"There are a lot of counties out there that have interactive mapping," Mueller said. "But Beltrami County is ahead of most."

Using a laptop and wireless facilities at Northwest Technical College, Mueller demonstrated to Bemidji Sunrise Rotarians how the free online mapping portion works, basically manipulating a number of data layers over a map of the county.

That map can be zoomed in to a particular parcel, street or geographic landmark in a number of ways, Mueller said. She demonstrated searching for an address, searching for all addresses along a given road, and that mailing labels can be generated for that neighborhood.

"This is something that our Environmental Services Department uses to notify people within a certain distance if there's a new plat going in or a development of some sort or people are applying for a variance," she said. "Oftentimes it would take upwards of a half a day to a day to pull that information out in the past. Now, in less than five minutes, they've got their labels."

Also part of the system is an air photo background, as recent as 2008 color photos, which can depict terrain.

"Say there's something you need to do a report on, or find a garage sale -- there's all kinds of usage for this," Mueller said.

Zooming into an address will display some information, she said, but the subscription service will display even more information. The paid service will also allow a user to find a property by owner's name.

A mapping tool will allow the user to separate layers, allowing them to create their own map with such features as showing parcels, parks, railroads, topographic information, voter information, and more.

In a demonstration, Mueller pulled up a parcel, who the owner is, if there is a secondary owner, mailing address, brief legal description, homesteaded or not and deeded acreage. The GIS program will also do a calculated acreage area.

Different aerial photo layers will also yield information, she said, such as an infrared photo shoot in part of the county by the U..S. Forest Service.

"Different tree species will show up with different hues of red out there, depending on whether its coniferous or deciduous, and it's aspen versus birch or oak," Mueller said, adding that the County Natural Resource Management Department uses that tool in its forest inventory work.

Aerial photography from 2009 has yet to be loaded into the system, she said, but adding that high-resolution photography is already in place for the city of Bemidji.

Mueller said she works closely with the city of Bemidji GIS, which sends her city updates monthly.

The online mapping system is also compatible with handheld global positioning systems, allowing a user to input latitude and longitude figures to locate a deer stand, she said. In most cases, the county's mapping is more up to date than GPS units or even Google on the Internet.

"Google and MapQuest may not have all the latest information out there," Mueller said. "We add new roads periodically or realign roads if the need comes about out there. IF the county does the realignment of a road, Google may not incorporate that for several years."

If a user makes a customized map, it can be printed or saved, she said.

The system also has use in emergency management, Mueller said.

"There was a plane that went down north of Red Lake," she said, showing the location on the map north of Upper Red Lake. "The plane had a black box in it. There were two individuals and a pet dog in that plane. Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport got GPS information from that black box, got a hold of Beltrami County dispatch. They were able to plug this in, and send a rescue team out."

A snowmobile trail passes to the south, and Mueller said the GPS data allowed a rescue team to find the right landmark to leave the trail to find the plane. "Luckily, nobody was hurt. But it went down in a very, very remote area where they probably would not have been found."

The speed of the system has greatly improved in recent months, she said, through the help of a consultant to meter how much data is revealed, with more data as the user drills down further.

"Lots and lots of information," she said.

Inputting a parcel number will reveal property tax information, which is public information.

"You can't break anything -- don't be afraid to use it," she told Rotarians.

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