GIS tops city engineer’s big wish list

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 1999

City Engineer David Gardner wishes he’d had something called a GIS at about 2 a.m. one day a few weeks ago.

It would have helped out, he said, when he was standing on John R. Junkin Drive looking into what Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown called &uot;the biggest pothole in America.&uot;

A GIS – geographic information system – might have helped Gardner figure out quickly what to do about the sinkhole that fell through the street just east of the Mississippi River Bridge.

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With the computerized mapping system, &uot;I would have known exactly where the storm drains were at 2 a.m.,&uot; Gardner said.

&uot;It could have helped me make a decision right then and there instead of waiting for things to open up at 8 a.m.&uot;

So what exactly is a GIS?

According to the Web site, &uot;a GIS is a computer-assisted information management system of geographically referenced data. It contains two closely integrated databases: one spatial (locational) and the other attribute (statistical). …

&uot;Different definitions have evolved through the years. GIS is sometimes seen as a set of tools for analyzing spatial data.&uot;

Sounds complex to someone confused by computers in the first place.

But it also sounds like a dream for a city engineer – or a police chief or city planner or fire chief.

The good news is the city is working on getting the money for a GIS, which Gardner estimated could cost $15,000 to 20,000, not including training costs and consultants.

&uot;We’re going to build it as we need it,&uot; Gardner said.

Police Chief Willie Huff said he hopes to apply for federal grants from the U.S. Justice Department and private grants from a company that supplies software for GIS systems.

And Gardner said it’s likely several city departments will chip in for the GIS&160;because it will help so many departments.

&uot;It’s really going to be an exciting thing,&uot; Gardner said.

Gardner and Huff have already visited Bossier City, La., a city which already uses a GIS.

A geographic information system would have quite a few uses for the City of Natchez.

Among them:

n The engineering department could use it to keep track of all of the utilities, drainage systems, property ownership – the list goes on.

Gardner said it could help out when the department wants to widen a road, for instance.

With the computer mapping, engineers could instantly find out who owns rights of way, where the utilities are and exactly how wide the road is now.

n The planning department could catalog each of the city’s historic districts and historic properties.

n The police department could use the system for crime mapping – a lot more scientific than colored pushpins in a map on the wall, Huff said.

&uot;It could show us on a visual map what crimes are occurring where, and if an accident occurs we could get a picture of the accident location,&uot; Huff said.

Huff and Gardner estimate the GIS could take two to three years to implement – with the biggest task being inputting all of the information.

Since everyone seems so worried about surviving the leap to Y2K, it’s nice to see the city looking forward to living in it.

Kerry Whipple is a senior staff writer at The Democrat. She can be reached at 446-5172, ext. 262, or by e-mail at