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What are those mysterious checkerboards appearing on Wright County roads?
May 5, 2014

By Ivan Raconteur
Herald Journal Editor

WRIGHT COUNTY, MN – Anyone traveling Wright County roads recently may have noticed the appearance of black and white checkerboards painted in the middle of the road.

Wright County Surveyor Steve Jobe explained the checkerboards are targets that will be used in an aerial photography project covering all of Wright County, as well as Sherburne and Stearns counties.

By combining their projects, the three counties were able to realize significant cost savings, Jobe said.

They contracted with Aerial Services of Cedar Falls, IA to complete the project.

The surveyor’s office spent two days painting 30 targets across Wright County. They rented two sprayers, one with black paint, and one with white, and used a template to paint the targets.

The surveyor’s office surveyed each of the points, and provided the coordinates to the contractor to be used in its calculations.

Jobe said the company will use the targets to line up the flight lines.

The checkerboard targets are a new design, Jobe said. In the past, white “plus sign” targets were used. The new design is more visible, and it is easier to locate the center because of the contrasting white and black squares, Jobe explained.

Timing of the project is critical. The goal is to do it after the snow melts and ice is off the lakes, but before the buds are on the trees. This provides the best photos.

The company will use two Cessna aircraft, identically equipped, to conduct the flights, and both will be in the air at the same time.

They will be flying at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,000 feet, Jobe said.

Each aircraft will have a pilot and a camera operator.

The company will also provide a fifth person to switch out and download the hard drives when the planes land to re-fuel. That person will check the images for quality, and if there are problems, such as smoke in the air, the flights can be re-flown while the crews are still in the area, Jobe explained.

It will take about 48 hours of flying time to complete the photography for all three counties, and the company expects to be able to complete this in four days using the two aircraft.

The surveyor’s office, the planning and zoning commission, assessor’s office, auditor/treasurer’s office, highway department, parks department, and Wright Soil and Water Conservation District all use the product.

The flights are expected to be completed in the next couple weeks.

“We are just waiting for some sunshine,” Jobe said. He and the company are watching the weather forecasts, waiting for a clear window of sunny days to complete the flights.

The finished product is expected to be delivered in August, at which time the county’s aerial photography and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data will be updated.

Jobe said Wright County has been on a three-year rotation for updating its aerial photography data. He noted if it gets much older than that, more trips into the field are needed to verify information.

Jobe said he has been a surveyor for 24 years, and this kind of technology was not available when he started. Having this technology saves a lot of field time and drive time, he explained.

This is also why it is worth contracting for these flights, according to Jobe. He said some people have asked why the county can’t just use products such as Google Earth that are already available. The level of detail is the difference, according to Jobe, and without the level of detail available with the product the county is purchasing, staff members would have to spend more time in the field.

Contracting with the other counties results in consistency of data, as well as cost savings, Jobe said.

He added that he hopes Wright County will be able to stay on the same schedule with Sherburne and Stearns counties, and possibly even add other counties to future projects.

Wright County’s portion of the cost for the project is $63,214.

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