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Use of Web GIS in Service of an Inter-Agency Collaboration Model in Mecklenburg County, NC

Kurt Olmsted, Geospatial Information Services Director, Mecklenburg County Department and James Scanlon, GIS Analyst, Mecklenburg County Department
Kurt Olmsted, Geospatial Information Services Director, Mecklenburg County Department

Kurt Olmsted, Geospatial Information Services Director, Mecklenburg County Department

Fostering regular and productive collaboration is key to combating the common organizational information barriers that manifest in inefficiencies such as knowledge gaps as well as efforts that are uncoordinated or duplicated. These typical problems are magnified even further when multiple organizations are intertwined in overlapping pursuits, as uniformly compatible solutions and coercive edicts are less feasible to implement across multiple organizations.

Multiple local governmental entities in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, specifically Charlotte Water (CW), Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation (MCPR) and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services (CMSWS), faced such challenges in planning capital improvement projects near local streams. While the mission, goals and desired outcomes for each of these entities can either differ or overlap depending on the situation, the fact that the multitude of variegated projects converge upon local waterways provided the basis to institute an ongoing and formalized collaboration model. While the initial process of stakeholder engagement and project discussion was established by organizing quarterly meetings, the process has since been expanded to also share geospatial data via a web platform. In general, collaboration has enabled more efficient planning and execution of infrastructure improvements around local streams for the benefit of these entities, citizens and the natural environment. By specifically utilizing a web GIS application solution in service of collaboration, end users have a universally accessible and readily available solution that enables stakeholders to visually assess where current and potential overlaps, conflicts and synergies occur with each agency’s current and potential projects. Additionally, this use case of a web GIS platform provides benefits such as security, practicality, accessibility and leverage to enhance collaboration and decision making among these different organizations.

Background of Communities and Agencies

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina is a rapidly growing urban community with over one million residents, with more than 80 percent of residents living within the City of Charlotte and the remainder of the population residing within six Towns and other unincorporated areas elsewhere in the County. With this growth come the pains associated with providing and maintaining adequate infrastructure to accommodate the quality of life residents need to contribute to a thriving community. Over 3,000 miles of streams within the County are included in the scope of these community assets, as stream corridors need effective improvements and management practices to help supply basic needs of water and sewer services to residents, provide natural amenities that promote wellness and support habitat for multiple species, and protect people, property and habitats from the hazards that storm water and water pollution pose in the face of increased population and urbanization. For many years, the three entities mentioned above have planned and executed capital improvement projects near local waterways in pursuit of beneficial goals and outcomes as defined by their respective organizations. These include:

  ​ Use case of a web GIS platform provides benefits such as security, practicality, accessibility and leverage to enhance collaboration and decision making among these different organizations   

• Charlotte Water (CW), the local utility that services drinking water and sewer infrastructure for residents. CW locates pipes alongside streams to utilize gravity to transport wastewater to treatment facilities.James Scanlon, GIS Analyst, Mecklenburg County Department

• Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation (MCPR), the department that performs land acquisition, planning, design and construction services for park and greenway projects throughout the County. Many MCPR projects, mainly greenways, are in proximity to local streams and promote mobility for pedestrians and bicyclists in a natural environment that is maintained to be healthier for other aquatic and terrestrial species.

• Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services (CMSWS) is a joint City-County utility that implements infrastructure improvement, pollution prevention and mitigation measures to address storm water issues such as flooding and drainage obstruction while also protecting stream channels from erosion and pollution. Among many endeavors executed in pursuit of healthier and safer waterways, CMSWS plans, arranges access, and manages design and construction services for stream restoration projects that better manage storm water to reduce erosion and restore aquatic habitat.

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Deployment of Web GIS Solution

To enhance the collaboration facilitated by inter-agency meetings, a wholly ESRI-based solution was deployed to facilitate GIS data sharing. Choosing these platforms provided benefits in these ways:

• Security: The GIS data that each agency contributed was combined and published to ArcServer as a Secured service, utilizing password authentication. In doing so, the internal project planning information of each of the involved agencies can be limited only to key stakeholders within the participating organizations.

• Practical: The web app to display the shared data was developed in ArcGIS Online (AGOL) platform and then ported over to a URL hosted by Mecklenburg County GIS. Using this platform provided the tools needed for the application to be developed in-house neither requiring extensive web development skills nor the requisite investment in time for planning, building and testing the application.

• Accessibility: End users only require any web-capable desktop or mobile device with an up to date browser to access the interactive data. Data is also available for access at any time so end users can stay current on project updates.

• Leverage: The web-capable map developed in AGOL also leverages supplemental information pertinent to projects, such as local base map, links to detailed property information, endangered species areas, ongoing or planned construction, floodplains and more. These layers were accessed from publicly available REST services endpoints published by GIS resources from Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte local governments. Additionally, incorporating these layers requires no cumbersome data requests or firewall exceptions and updates are captured automatically according the predetermined publishing schedules.

Results of Collaboration

Collaboration and access to current data has had the effect of informing decisions at the planning level. By doing so, enhanced efficiencies are being realized:

• Project re-prioritization to better facilitate joint pursuits and cost sharing. For example: CMSWS and MCPR can identify where they have prospective projects along the same streams and adjust priority rankings and schedules to share the costs of acquiring properties.

• Efficient phasing of activities, for example: MCPR waiting to pave greenway paths until after CW sewage mains have been installed alongside streams.

• Leveraging existing acquisition and access, for example: CMSWS conducting stream restoration projects where MCPR has purchased land for greenway projects and vice-versa.

While these sorts of efficiencies were achieved on a case-by-case basis in the past based on discussions between individual project managers, by formalizing a collaboration model, these organizations indicated their commitment to adopting better practices and processes for planning and executing projects affecting streams in Mecklenburg County. Utilizing Web GIS has proved to be a useful tool to aid collaboration and should be explored by any GIS capable organization looking to enjoy the advantages delivered by sharing information in this manner.

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