Clallam County Web site offers 3-D maps

To see like an eagle, look to your mouse.

A high-flying view of your home, neighborhood, city, or district is only a few clicks away on Clallam County’s Web site,

Areas in and around Forks, Port Angeles and Sequim have been mapped by a high-tech system called LIDAR, for light direction and ranging.

County commissioners last Tuesday approved mapping 24.5 more acres that include Clallam Bay and the adjacent region south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The mapping will cost the county about $265 per acre in a project shared with the Department of state Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and the Makah tribe.

Clallam County residents with Internet access, however, can view the results for free, as well as lower-tech maps that show roads, rivers, soils, range and township lines, zoning, wildlife habitat, the Olympic Discovery Trail — even eagle nesting sites.

Begun four years ago

Tom Shindler, Geographic Information System coordinator for the county Department of Community Development, says the mapping of the county’s built-up areas started four years ago at a cost of $150,000.

The money, he said, was better spent on LIDAR mapping than on on-site surveys.

The county road department could pay thousands of dollars to a survey crew for mapping that — while not quite as precise –can be done for hundreds of dollars from the air.

LIDAR blends three high-tech systems: the global positioning satellite system known as GPS, inertial navigation using gyroscopes in aircraft, and a narrow cone of laser light beamed from the air.

GPS allows a pilot to fix precisely his airplane’s position above the Earth.

Inertial navigation keeps the LIDAR transmitter level and thus establishes the angle at which the laser strikes the ground.

The laser itself measures the exact distance between the aircraft and a 2-foot-square to 3-foot-square spot on the ground.

A computer triangulates the plane’s position, angle, and distance to produce a contour map, a three-dimensional projection, even a 3-D map with contour lines.

The map’s resolution is defined in 6-foot by 6-foot squares.

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