Six municipalities opt in to aerial imagery project

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MANITOULIN – Six Island townships have expressed interest in taking part in an aerial survey of Northeastern and central Ontario next spring as part of the provincial government’s five-year update of its orthographic imagery.

Orthophotography is the term for when aerial photographs are manipulated so the photographed features align with a given map projection. Ordinarily, photos from above may be distorted due to changes in the shape of the ground and the angle at which the photo is taken. This corrects the photos so that they can be used more effectively in municipal planning purposes.

The provincial government runs five-year cycles to gather imagery, focusing on one part of Ontario each year. In 2021, Land Information Ontario (LIO) will run the Central Ontario Orthophotography Project (COOP 2021).

“(COOP) is an excellent opportunity for Manitoulin. By partnering together with the province and with other stakeholders across the region, we can reduce the costs of acquiring the imagery far below what it would cost if one were to do it by themselves,” said Jake Diebolt, geographic information system (GIS) technician at Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB).

MPB first took part in the COOP process in 2016, when Ontario last focused on this region. 

The central Ontario imagery zone includes Manitoulin and the North Shore west to about Desbarats, including Elliot Lake, then the whole Killarney area and the city of Greater Sudbury, south to near Parry Sound, east to Algonquin Provincial Park, north to near Mattawa and up along the Highway 11 corridor to Timmins, as well as a strip along Highway 560 between Englehart and Highway 144.

When the designated region’s imagery date nears, such as this region for the spring 2021 round of photography, LIO solicits partnerships from municipalities and First Nations within the potential coverage area.

Municipalities have to pay based on the size of their geographic area that they wish to capture on the photographs. COOP 2021 carries an estimate of $5 per square kilometre, but in 2016 the strong participation of municipalities led to a lower cost of $3.29 per square kilometres. 

So far, Assiginack, Billings, Burpee and Mills, Central Manitoulin, Gordon/Barrie Island and Tehkummah are the Island municipalities that have signed letters of intent to take part in COOP 2021. 

In addition to the letter of intent and covering the eventual costs, participating municipalities have to submit their GIS data. This will allow MPB to cross-reference the location of property lines and other infrastructure and geographic features with the aerial imagery.

LIO contracts the orthophotography out to an external company, indicated Mr. Diebolt at MPB. The imagery collection will take place in the spring in the precious short window between snowmelt and when leaves begin to grow and block out the ground.

To cover the entire area of Manitoulin at $5 per square kilometre would cost about $13,830, though not all municipalities and First Nations have committed to the project.

Having access to such imagery can deliver considerable benefits for participating areas. Municipal officials can compare how properties have changed and if ratepayers have constructed buildings without notifying the township, which would then adjust its taxation rates accordingly.

“The 2016 aerial imagery has been incredibly helpful to us in processing planning applications and in data acquisition. I think the 2021 imagery will be even more useful,” stated Mr. Diebolt in an email to several Island townships.

The orthophotography has considerable advantages over the data that is available from a source such as Google Earth. First, the exact date of imagery capture is recorded in the file. Next, images are considerably higher resolution than the information available through Google’s satellite imagery, which is rather blurry for much of Manitoulin. Additionally, the imagery is likely to be more up-to-date than freely accessible imagery data.

Further, orthophotography works in tandem with a township’s GIS data and will superimpose useful information such as property boundaries, tax roll numbers and zoning classifications.

At the November 3 council meeting in Tehkummah, when that township agreed to send in a letter of interest, clerk-administrator Silvio Berti said the system has proven very valuable for his municipality.

“It definitely helps the case if you’re wanting to send a letter to a property owner saying ‘where’s your building permit’ or that sort of thing, you can send a photo of it,” said Mr. Berti, adding that the tool is not generally useful for preventive surveillance because of the time it takes to sift through imagery, but it can be beneficial to build evidence for any disputes.

“It’s very helpful; we look all the time,” said Mr. Berti.

Once all interested municipalities express their intent, LIO will solicit firm agreements with partners and issue cost estimates.

Imagery is likely to take place in May and June 2021, dependent on weather conditions, with the final signed legal agreements to be due in August 2021. By March 2022 at the earliest, townships are likely to receive their imagery and will have to pay at that time.

LIO did not respond to a request for further information by press time Friday, November 6.