The surveying profession scored a major pre-Christmas victory when President Trump signed S. 1069, the Digital Coast Act, becoming Public Law 116-223 on Dec. 18, 2020.

The legislation establishes a constituent-driven program in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide a digital information platform to support collection of priority coastal geospatial data to inform and improve local, state, regional, and federal management of the coastal region. 

Land surveyors are among the producers of data. Dewberry, Fugro Geospatial, Quantum Spatial, Tetra Tech, and Woolpert are prime contractors supporting NOAA through its Coastal Geospatial Services Contract Vehicle, with scores of surveying, mapping and related services subcontractors. Enactment of the law will provide an opportunity for surveyors to increasingly become users of Digital Coast data when working on projects near the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf, or Alaskan coasts, or Great Lakes.

Digital Coast is a project managed by NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management. It “integrates geospatial data, decision-support tools, training, and best practices for the purpose of addressing coastal management issues and needs. 

"The Act codifies a high-valued program that multiplies information investments made by federal partners, states, local authorities, the private sector, and others,” said Nicole R. LeBoeuf, acting assistant administrator for Ocean Services and Coastal Zone Management.

The legislation elevates the NOAA project to a fully authorized program. “It identifies data information gaps, including coastal elevation, land use and land cover, critical infrastructure, socioeconomic and human use, structures, living resources and habitat, cadastral, and aerial imagery”, according to Nicholas (“Miki”) Schmidt, division chief, Science and Geospatial Services, NOAA Office for Coastal Management. The new law will “ensure that the Digital Coast is providing the right information in a way that is easy to discover and use.” 

The Digital Coast Partnership Advocacy Coalition, the broad alliance of organizations supporting the legislation in Congress, was led by John “JB” Byrd, registered lobbyist for the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) and the U.S. Geospatial Executives Organization (U.S. GEO). 

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) said, “This legislation will strengthen the incredibly popular Digital Coast program, which makes it possible for local leaders in our coastal communities to make decisions with clear, current, and useful information. I am proud to support the great work of geospatial professionals and coastal management experts in the private sector and at all levels of government who make it possible for local leaders to have clear data that informs their decisions. The Digital Coast Act will strengthen this important program and support the great work they do to deliver top notch, reliable information relied on by emergency responders, coastal planners, and businesses.”

Representative Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), sponsor of the companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “While it is critical to coastal communities like mine in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we all have a stake in protecting America’s shorelines. This bill is more important now than it was when I first introduced it ten years ago. We’re seeing more storms that are stronger and sea level rise is accelerating. We’re arming local planners and managers with the tools they need to save people and property.”

The primary cosponsor in the House, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), said, “No other state in the nation understands the need for coastal resilience and mapping more than Alaska. The Digital Coast Act is an important step towards developing a system that supports our coastal communities, and serves our national security and economic needs.”

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