March 30, 2004 – What areas are prone to floods and mudslides? Where are the best places to build roads and bridges? How safe are naval passages at low tide? These questions could all be more accurately answered using a new three-dimensional surveying system, a federal government official said on Tuesday.
David Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor with the U.S. Department of Commerce, said outdated data from the 1950s and a lack of modern equipment to measure longitude, latitude and elevation have hindered commercial and environmental projects in the territory.
The three-dimensional system "provides vast capabilities in positioning," Doyle said, adding that coastlines change because of erosion and earthquakes. "It's especially important when you live on an island," he said.
Doyle told Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards and representatives of various government agencies that global positioning satellites are regularly off by as much as 2.5 meters (more than 8 feet) in the territory. With the new 24-hour global positioning system, the accuracy could be brought to within 2 centimeters (about three-quarters of an inch), he said.
Such technological upgrades in Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina and Wisconsin have helped planners devise emergency routes for evacuation and relief in the event of natural disasters; effectively map coastlines, mountains and basins; and plan sewer pipe routes, Doyle said.
When the city of Oakland, Calif., needed to bring in a hugh crane by barge, he said, geodetic survey data were used to plot when the tides would be lowest so the crane could pass under the Golden Gate Bridge — which it cleared by just 6 feet (less than 2 meters).
Doyle said it's been 50 or 60 years since the last comprehensive survey of the islands was done, and most of the original survey markers have long since been destroyed by construction or erosion. He said the new data, once collected, would be available at no cost to any agency and would benefit professionals from real estate agents and engineers to sea captains and emergency planners.
The proposed new system would include setting new markers, leveling areas and setting up three absolute gravity stations as well as a global positioning system. The cost would be more than $100,000. Doyle said if the Virgin Islands were to foot the bill, work could begin immediately; alternatively, it could be put on hold for several years while the territory's delegate to Congress seeks federal funding.
Richards said he would consult officials of the government agencies that would be affected by the decision and would respond as soon as possible.
Mark Hayward, who previously worked on installing a new system to survey and map American Samoa, is currently the geodetic information systems coordinator for the British Virgin Islands. He said a new system for the territory would serve the interests of both the U.S. and British Virgins. In fact, he said, "If we could get the two to work together, it would just be a great benefit to the Caribbean."
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