• Jon Douglas

Right-of-Way Vegetation Management using GIS

Row Maintained

Some businesses manage sprawling assets, like transmission utility lines & corridors. One challenging facet of maintaining these is in plain sight and often overlooked: right-of-way (ROW) vegetation management. Someone in an oversight position might realize that vegetation management is inconsistent from team to team, both in the field and in the books.

Modern mapping (read: GIS) can solve this problem and get a consistent, detailed, and high-level view of the work that needs to be done.

What does maintaining the right-of-way look like? From the field's point of view, most ROW needs mowing, some are swampy and need special trekked equipment, some need tree trimming, and a variety of other needs. Equipment operators need to know where to maintain and what equipment to use. From the management point of view, there's a procedure that looks something like the following: Management holds meetings stressing the importance of maintaining the ROW, delegating staff to oversee the detailed work plan for each team, and maybe a specialist in organizing and keeping after the efforts. They must build a budget to hire contractors needed to help get the work done and create lists and maps of details about what and where the teams and contractors need to work and get through the bidding process. After all of these steps, they still need to schedule the work, make quality checks to ensure the job is up to snuff, make payments for work done, and finally report for the future, so the process goes smoothly in the future. Some try using ledgers, lists, and spreadsheets for accounting for the teams. In contrast, others maintain documents that detail the areas, and some even go to the lengths of making multiple visits to the field with the contractors for 'showings.'

Row Unkept

What could be missing after all of this? There is a tool that helps organize this kind of data for sprawling transmission assets, and even across different areas, to help gain consistency. This tool is not new, but its' often overlooked: it's mapping, but mapping using modern methods, otherwise known as a Geographic Information System, or GIS.

Some have tried adding a geospatial element to this workflow by providing beginning & end coordinates for a maintenance section, delivered in a table with notes about what needs to be done. This is difficult to update and even more difficult to figure out distances for budgeting purposes. Others even 'dip their toe in the water by using Google Earth (a desktop GIS that operates like post-it notes) but alas, there are sharing and sync issues that arise there.

The optimal situation is to have a web-based GIS that includes pertinent data from the following: the transmission assets, ROW data that may consist of easements and parcel lines, and of course, the maintenance segments, with the maintenance type, all under password-protected that changed, say, once per year.

How does this help our clients? First, to build the dataset is to record all known segments spatially on a map, as specified by the field techs maintaining those assets. This documents their in-house knowledge into a system in a way it's easy for them to communicate so that it's no longer just knowledge within themselves. This data can be added by the field technicians, an administrator, on location, or remotely. Secondly, the recording includes any needed special comments and photos or documents, all of which are available for viewing and navigation, even if the user is offline! Next, high-level summarizing and reporting can be done for totaling and budgeting purposes. Management at all levels can appreciate knowing what's happening in the field on an up-to-date map. The next step is, communicating about a specific segment can now be done using a unique id number. Searching for that ID number can be as simple as punching the search box again in the office or on a mobile device. Lastly is the ability to update on-the-fly. The ease of updating helps ensure the maps 'don't get in their own way' of becoming outdated.

A good GIS, in general, is only as good as it enables people to find information on the map where they expect it to be, both at their desks and in the field. The next goal is to make it as simple as possible and update it when the data is aged or missing. Lastly is the ability to report on the data therein so that resource loading can best be applied to those who 'hold the moneybags and sign the checks.

In all, mapping using modern tools (read: a well-built and efficient GIS) is an excellent way to get different operating areas. These are great for getting contractor help to describe and record how they need their right-of-ways maintained, all in the same robust, scalable and responsive format. GIS is the right tool for this job.

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