Growing Support for Digital Coast in Congress

Recent reports and articles have focused on sea level rise and how technology can be used to monitor, evaluate and plan for the phenomena. Included in these reports is a focus on a technology known and accepted by the geospatial community, but new to the mainstream media. That technology is LiDAR.

The value of LIDAR data is known by agencies, organizations and businesses that utilize the technology to collect and analyze the data to plan for natural and manmade incidents that change the landscape of the United States. The general public and legislators are now noticing the value of the technology for programs to monitor coastal change.

A bi-partisan bill, H.R. 1382, the Digital Coast Act of 2013 has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) and Don Young (R-AK). The bill will authorize a Digital Coast program, whereby the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would develop a coordinated and comprehensive national mapping effort for coastal, State and territorial waters of the United States.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will soon introduce a companion bill in the Senate. Committed original cosponsors at publishing time include Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Angus King (I-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). This is where the geospatial community can get involved. With todays political climate and the importance of this issue, Senator Baldwin would like to introduce the bill with a Republican co-sponsor. The geospatial community can help move this legislation by contacting their Senators, especially Republican coastal Senators, and ask them to cosponsor Sen. Baldwins bill.

More than half of all Americans, 153 million people currently live on or near a coast and an additional 12 million are expected to move to the coasts over the next decade. Coastal counties average 300 persons per square mile, compared with the national average of 98. In recent years, more than 1,540 permits for construction of single-family homes were issued in coastal counties on a daily basis, combined with other commercial, retail and institutional development to support this population. Yet despite this population density and economic development, much of the 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline does not have current, accurate maps and geospatial information; moreover, much of what does exist pre-dates the 1970s.

Regarding Americas major ports, harbors and shipping areas, there is a 26,000 square nautical mile backlog that will take some 15 years to accurately update with current maps. Given the feverish pace of coastal growth and development, as well as natural and man-made phenomena that continually alter the characterization of the shoreline, the accuracy, consistency and currency of these coastal areas cannot be assured. Moreover, as Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami demonstrated, the need for spatial data on our coasts is critical to emergency preparedness and emergency response.

The Digital Coast Act is a common sense bill that would utilize modern technology to collect, manage and monitor the Nations coastline and a successful public private partnership model. With the backlog of shoreline mapping and the need to utilize geospatial technologies, the legislation would be a driver for workforce and business development. In addition, this legislation would compliment that initiative by the United States Geological Surveys (USGS) 3D Elevation Program as well as FEMAs Flood Map Modernization efforts, among other related Federal geospatial programs.

Now is the time for the geospatial profession to encourage Senators to cosponsor Senator Baldwins bill.

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