What happened in 2017 and what to look forward to in 2018 at VCGI

John E. Adams
Jan 3, 2018 · 8 min read

Twenty-five years ago, Vermont’s geospatial data fit on twelve 1.44 MB floppy disks, and a staff technician spent 10 hours a week filling a handful of data requests for VCGI’s one hundred and seven customers. At the time, it was estimated that demand for VCGI’s data over the next couple decades would grow a rate of 2%-10% annually, which (at the high end) would result in just under 1300 users. These forecasts were off. 2017 saw record numbers of users that surpassed all predictions — including our estimate from last year.

Record numbers of Vermonters used Geospatial Data and Technology.

The rapidly rising demand for VCGI’s data and services reflects a booming geospatial analytics industry driven by rapidly evolving technology that has taken a historically ‘niche’ software used by specialists and made it accessible and mainstream.

The successes of 2017 were the result of the dedication of the small, hard-working team at VCGI, as well as many other partners inside and out of state government. I’ve outlined a few highlights from this past year, as well as a few things we are excited about for 2018!

We launched the Open Geodata Portal & we said goodbye to our old friend the Data Warehouse.

VCGI and our amazing state agency partners launched the much-anticipated Open Geodata Portal, a website that helps people explore, contribute, and use Vermont’s geospatial information and resources. Much of the data in the portal is now available in spreadsheets, as KML (google-compatible) files, geojson, shp files, web services and APIs for developers to use in their applications. The portal replaces VCGI’s ‘Data Warehouse,’ which served Vermont’s GIS community well for over a decade! A major advantage of the portal is that it automatically catalogs data layers and tools from source organizations — State Agencies and Regional Planning Commissions alike — into one centralized application for rapid access to fresh information. Mostly gone are the days of mailing & duplicating data, along with confusion about where to find authoritative sources.

The portal more than doubled its initial 5 contributing agencies to 13, and now includes participation from Regional Planning Commissions. Data in the portal meets VCGI’s metadata standards and feeds directly into data.gov, the federal government’s data portal (where Vermont has the 3rd most ESRI REST Services available, behind NOAA and the EPA.)

What to look for in 2018: Even more partners who share data within the portal, and site improvements to help make it easier to find what you are looking for.

Once a dream, now a reality: statewide lidar.

Thanks to funding from over 20 public/private partners and the sweat and tears of many over the years, Vermont is now in the enviable position of having statewide lidar coverage. Used by hydrologists to model flooding, solar energy professionals to calculate solar radiation, foresters to estimate stand volume, farmers to identify highly erodible areas and maximize fertilizer application, geologists to identify areas susceptible to landslides, engineers to develop housing and by countless others, statewide Vermont lidar will soon be publicly available as freely downloadable layers from the Geodata Portal and also as Web Mapping Services for streaming.

Our lidar program manager, Mike Brouillette, is working around the clock on processing the data for the Middle CT River basin to make it available in the coming month. By the end of 2018 our collection of lidar data will total approximately 10 TB — and to think, a few years ago you could get our entire 17 MB database by mail order on floppy disks.

What to look for in 2018: QL2 updates, high-resolution land cover, and building footprints!

New and not-so-new imagery.

Once a year, VCGI employees can be caught peering anxiously out of windows and obsessively checking regional forecasts and competing weather models, all in service of Vermont’s long-lasting imagery program. To capture the highest-quality aerial photography, VCGI relies on a narrow, cloudless window in spring between snowmelt and leaf-out, which represents the optimum time for gathering images of the earth from the sky. In 2016 we were fortunate enough to have a window of a couple weeks to capture what we needed. 2017 was not as kind to us, that window was a few hours in April. Needless to say, we weren’t able to send planes everywhere we had hoped. Despite the setback, we are poised to make the most of our time this coming spring to catch the places we missed.

What’s old is new again — we are thrilled to have released digital historic imagery from the 1940s and 1960s for the first time through the Geodata Portal! The release generated plenty of buzz and we were delighted to hear about how much joy this old imagery brought to a diverse audience.

What to look for in 2018: more quality imagery from VCGI, and historic imagery from the 1970s and 80s [if any historic imagery enthusiasts out there have the time, resources or ideas for scanning or georeferencing additional records to supplement our holdings, please reach out!]

HackVT & VCGI’s first Data Innovation Fellowship

VCGI’s first ever Data Innovation Fellow, Kendal Fortney, came on board this summer and has been helping us up our game, from increasing our presence on Slack, Medium and Github, to expanding our data science capabilities through Python. This fall Kendall took the lead in organizing Vermont’s annual Hackathon, a civic hacking sprint that attracted groups from around the state to code, collaborate, and compete, as they employed geospatial data from the Portal to explore the theme of “undiscovered Vermont.”

Parcel Data Program

Did you know that property parcel data is our most searched for dataset? The monumental effort to acquire consistent statewide parcel data that’s linkable to the Grand List kicked off this year — after two decades of working toward statewide parcel data, certain public servants can finally breathe sighs of relief — with 73 towns participating in the first phase. Over the next few months, this data will flow to the public through the Geodata Portal, with the rest of the state mapped in phases 2 and 3 (target completion Jan 1, 2020.) You can learn more about Vermont’s parcel data efforts here. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to go compare the latest data with stone walls on our property that we found through lidar…

What to look for in 2018: First delivery of standardized parcel data!

We created some new datasets and updated some oldies.

We compiled a new Vermont Protected Lands dataset, published banks data and state buildings data for the first time, and added voting tabulation districts to the Portal. We completed a significant update to the State’s county, town, and village boundary dataset (BNDHASH); this dataset represents the most authoritative source of Vermont county, town, and village boundary lines. We updated parcels data as per usual, and had a retirement party for some of our older datasets.

Some other data updates include: Slope, 1 foot contours, aspect, Act 174 energy layers, orthoimagery, and geographic codes.

Browse the geoportal to see what else our partners have added — such as zoning districts added by Regional Planning Commissions for all Vermont municipalities.

What to look for in 2018: Census data going back to 1790, tax data, tree canopy, land cover, education data.

Things didn’t break down very often.

IT operations get put in the spotlight when things go wrong or when services are unavailable, not when things are running smoothly. VCGI’s Service Level Policy shoots to have services “available” 98% of the time, which translates into no more than 3 hours of “downtime” per week. VCGI’s IT Team kept web services and related systems running smoothly throughout the year and minimized disruption during significant server upgrades.

What to look for in 2018: Same reliable service as 2017.

And we…

held another successful Geospatial forum. Updated our interactive map viewer. Tech Jammed. Taught people to visualize economic data. Had a Map Art show at the Statehouse. Found out where beavers live. Helped work on clean water funding issues. Talked about lasers. Traveled through time. Spoke to legislators about GIS. Learned how to read. Joined the Agency of Digital Services. Explained data on economic development and zoning. Got ready for the 2020 Census. Found scary prehistoric creatures. Took a head spinning staff photo. Looked at jobs in 3D. Made nerdy dad jokes.

and last but not least…

We say farewell to Leslie Pelch

After 21 years of dedication to VCGI, Leslie will be joining the team at Delaney Meeting & Event Management in Burlington, Vermont. We will miss her tremendously and wish her the best in her new adventure!

“Leslie is the glue that keeps Vermont’s GIS community together.”

“A great loss for GIS outreach and education across VT.”

“So helpful and a great spirit.”

“Damn, Leslie, I finally got over my grudge against you for selling me that VW Rabbit that kept stranding my son all over the NEK in 1992 and now I have to re-kindle it because you’re leaving me stranded in GIS-land. (I can hear you now: “Hey, that was 25 years ago and what do you expect from a $500 car with a gazillion miles on it?”) What can I say? I’m Irish; we’ve elevated grudges to a high art. Seriously, I wish you the best in your new adventure. I just hope you leave a list for your replacement entitled: “VCGI patrons requiring lots of patience with dumb and repetitive questions” and put me at the top. You’ll be tough to replace in my book but that would help. Loved learning from you over the years.”

“I will always remember having a meeting with you out of the back of your car right after the flood in Waterbury!! So dedicated!!!”

Vermont Center for Geographic Information

Welcome to the Vermont Center for Geographic Information on Medium - a blog about mapping, data, and all things geospatial in the Green Mountain State.

John E. Adams

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Vermont Center for Geographic Information

Welcome to the Vermont Center for Geographic Information on Medium - a blog about mapping, data, and all things geospatial in the Green Mountain State.