New aerial photography will show as many as 12 views of Washington County houses and other buildings, but technology and software licensing will limit public access to the images.
The county's two-year contract with Pictometry International Corp., for about $102,000, will produce images taken at angles rather than the more traditional straight-down aerial photography. Numerous county offices will use the images for everything from engineering to mapping to law enforcement purposes, said Mjyke Nelson, the county's information technology director.
Nelson's recent presentation to the County Board raised questions about residents' desire for privacy and conversely to what extent anyone could ask to view images that will be sharper and more detailed than what's available on the Web.
"I don't think there's anything that should alarm or concern anybody, there's nothing nefarious about this," Nelson said.
Pictometry will shoot photographs from the air once the snow cover disappears and before trees leaf out, he said. Washington County last bought aerial photography in 2011 and this year will share costs with Anoka, Carver and Dakota counties.
The Pictometry software, which the county essentially rents for specified uses, enables users to view all sides of structures. Additionally, every pixel of each photograph is georeferenced to its exact location on the Earth, which provides measurements of area, distance, height, elevation, pitch and bearing. County departments use the Pictometry imagery and data to aid planning, inspection, or engineering work.
Cities and townships in Washington County can use the imagery at no additional cost under the contract, Nelson said. The Washington County portion of the flight will provide 6-inch resolutions for most of the county and 9-inch resolutions for Scandia and the townships of Denmark, May and Stillwater.
Residents concerned about privacy won't see their houses displayed on the county website because the Pictometry contract doesn't allow that. But there's no doubt that they're open records under state law, said Rick Hodsdon, the data practices manager in the county attorney's office.
"The blanket notion that you can't walk in and ask for it, I would advise against that," he said.
Nelson said the license agreement with Pictometry provides "proprietary software" that the county will rent for a two-year period. Specific prints could be made for any residents requesting them, he said, for a copy fee.
"They can see the stuff," he said. "There's nothing secret or confidential about it."
Any concern over what extent aerial photography should be made available might be rendered a nonissue "because so many other online services are available," Nelson said.
The difference, he said, is with Pictometry's resolution.
"This actually gives you that 3-D effect, and you're able to measure things off of that," he told commissioners at the Feb. 18 board meeting.
Washington County's contract requires an initial payment of $13,325.87, with $39,977.63 paid after the delivery of the images this year and $48,587.50 paid for licensing in 2015.
Neighboring St. Croix County, Wis., also is buying new aerial photography this spring that will help local governments map growth expected to occur when a new St. Croix River bridge opens in late 2016.