Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program Duluth Digital Plat & Parcel Development for Lake Superior Watershed Protection

Richard Bunten /GIS Specialist/ City of Duluth January 4, 2008
Project No. 306-12-08 Contract No. A92540

This project was funded in part by the Coastal Zone Management Act, by NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, in conjunction with Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program.

NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program City of Duluth St. Louis County Pro-West and Associates, Inc. LHB, Inc.

The City of Duluth GIS Office would like to thank the above organizations for their part in funding this project, providing data pertaining to the project or contracting to provide services for the project’s successful completion.

Introduction This project represents the completion of the third year of a five-year project to map the property ownership within the City of Duluth. The completion of another 11,400 parcels marks another major step toward a complete citywide property ownership map. As of now, more than 24,000 parcels of the estimated 52,000 parcels within the City of Duluth have been mapped. These parcels also represent another major portion of the city’s coordinated effort with Saint Louis County to map the entire county by 2010. With this accurate property ownership map, the City is actively trying to better manage development, its infrastructure and protect the natural environment, including the Lake Superior watershed. This year’s project mapped property in the Tischer Creek and Amity Creek watersheds and most of the eastern part of Duluth along the Lake Superior lakeshore. The residential neighborhoods mapped in this project will provide the city a tool for working with property owners to reduce sedimentation and contamination of storm water fed directly into nearby trout streams and Lake Superior. Finally, the city public works department will be better able to work with property owners to manage storm water mitigation plans and ‘Inflow and Infiltration’ programs. Work Completed This project digitally mapped the property ownership of 11,465 parcels in the Tischer and Amity Creek watersheds. Coordinates for 46 Public Land Survey corners were researched and surveyed. This information was use to breakdown each public land survey section into quarter-sections and sixteenth-sections. The public land survey was then used as a base map to register property subdivisions in the correct location. In addition to creating parcels, 15 Public Land Survey sections were mapped within the city. Over 152 platted subdivisions were mapped that include 1100+ subdivision blocks and 15500+ subdivision lots. Over 1100 encumbrances were mapped, which include easements, condemnations and vacations.

The parcel layer when overlaid with other GIS layers will help the City of Duluth protect the Tischer Creek and Amity Creek watersheds. Analysis with the parcel layer may help prevent undesired development, harmful land use and pollution near wetlands. It can also help protect erodible soils, tributaries, and streams within the watersheds. Used in conjunction with other layers, the parcel layer will help the city better identify ownership pertaining to sources of storm water runoff and storm water infiltrating the sanitary sewer. Identifying these sources will help the city prevent sanitary overflows and design storm sewer projects that better protect the watershed’s resources.

By knowing the exact location of property lines in relation to sensitive natural features like wetlands, city planners and engineers will also be able to assist developers with development designs that protect the Lake Superior watershed. Engineering staff will be able to overlay storm water and surface water models on the property map and be able to quickly determine ownership. Being able to easily determine ownership of land will help the city work closely with property owners to mitigate storm water runoff. Engineers can quickly show landowners how storm water mitigation structures will look and reduce flow on their property. Future planning to prevent flooding and protect water quality will be greatly enhanced using the parcel map as a base layer to reflect the impacts of land usages on the system. Finally, the parcel map will be integrated into a larger countywide parcel database and possibly a regional or national parcel database. This information will allow users to create highly accurate land-use and zoning maps that can be used for planning and analysis that encompass large tracts of the Lake Superior watershed.

The plat and parcel map creation of the Amity and Tischer Creek watersheds progressed well and few unexpected problems occurred. A few of the problems that were encountered had to do with survey issues that allow for gaps and overlaps in property ownership, another issue was how to deal with railroad rights-of-way that have no documentation, and finally our biggest issue was how to distribute error in a subdivision to make it fit within the parcel fabric. First, the question arose about how to deal with land that exist, but is not accounted for in the legal descriptions? These are areas where there are known survey issues gaps in the public survey record. It was concluded that these areas would be mapped, but ownership would have to be determined at a later date. Second, documentation of railroad rights-of-ways is very difficult to obtain. The county may have never received documentation of railroad rights-of-ways, but the railroad and rights-of-way does exist. The railroad companies are hard to contact to get documentation and when you do get someone they have lost the documentation because railroads have merged and split throughout the last 125year history of Duluth. As a result, rights-of-ways were mapped as best as possible, assumptions were made and documented. Further research will need to be conducted in the future. Third, because this parcel-mapping project moved into older parts of the city where a plat traverse was not possible, the issue of how to distribute error within

the plat arose. ‘Error’ means the difference between the measured distance on the plat and the actual distance available on the GIS parcel fabric. Error could be distributed to a side or corner of the plat, it could be placed within rights-of-ways or it could be distributed evenly throughout the plat. Our consultant Pro-West and Associates thought that the error should be place in a corner or to one side of the plat while maintaining the true measured or precise distances for lots throughout the plat. This makes for quicker data entry and easier identification of where the error is placed. However, this type of data entry means that lot lines progressively get less accurate while maintaining their precise width as you move across the plat. The far side of a plat could have lot lines that are inches to several feet distant from their actually real world location. Therefore, it was decided, to distribute the error within each plat evenly across the plat, while maintaining precise road rights-of-ways width. This process was originally developed by the City GIS office and used in all areas mapped by the City GIS staff in previous projects, but only now adopted by our consultant halfway through this year’s project. Proportioning plats creates lots that are less precise but maintains their real world location more accurately. Therefore the parcels will overlap with aerial photography more accurately and follow existing survey methods established by local surveyors. It was stated in our conclusions from our 2005 parcel-mapping project that the city GIS office needed to reduce its match hours for the next project, because it had a hard time meeting the number of match hours required. This project reduced those hours significantly and the GIS office was able to easily fulfill its match. Our next projects will have a smaller match for the GIS office because of matching funds provided by St. Louis County. This will free up time for the city GIS office to do more maintenance of the parcel database, keep up with scheduled quarterly updates and use the parcel map as an analysis tool for various city projects that will help improve the water quality of Lake Superior. However, the city will still be responsible for mapping 1,000 parcels in its 2008 project. In my opinion, it is vital for any government entity that takes on a parcelmapping project to have an employee do some of the parcel editing. It creates a sense of ownership of the data, improves editing skills that will be needed for the maintenance of the database, and provides the employee knowledge about parcel mapping that will let them knowledgably converse with the consultant about parcel mapping methodology and eventually result in a product that the government entity will find useful upon completion.

Another reason for the success of this project was the survey control that was attained for creating the section, quarter section and sixteenth section divisions of the Public Land Survey (PLS). Having an accurate base for control allowed editors to quickly and easily build subdivisions, and metes and bounds parcels.

Without this important information there would have been many gaps and overlaps of property. Also, it was discovered that the city’s many “Street Improvement Projects” (SIPs) could provide valuable control on the location of platted street centerlines. This information provided a valuable source of data that was essentially free and improved the accuracy of property. We will continue to use these projects as a source of survey data and should save the city money since survey crews will be needed less. Finally, continued use of an experienced consultant helps us keep our project moving forward with little down time. Having Saint Louis County and the City of Duluth use the same consultant is a big advantage. All three of us are able to easily communicate with each other and solve problems as needed. Our development model of using disconnected editing in ArcGIS 9.2 worked very well again. The City of Duluth housed the database on our SDE server and provided checkout/checkin service to Pro-West and Associates. This editing model allowed three people to work on the database at the same time. Once each editor’s data was complete, it was checked back into the parent database and each editor received new edits. Pro-West and Associates and the City of Duluth GIS office were very pleased with the software’s functionality.

Nothing to report