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Harrison residents salvage remnants from their residences after an EF3 tornado touched down in the area on Friday, March 2.

Though tornadoes have drastically altered some Hamilton County neighborhoods, the landscape of these areas still appears untouched on the county's Geographic Information System website.

The most recent aerial photos were taken in 2010. Local officials are working to change that.

Hamilton County commissioners recently agreed to pay for aerial photography to update the maps. The site serves many functions, such as providing property and owner data. Tracts can be viewed with a topography overlay to aid engineers and surveyors.

The photography, which costs $158,973, is a good investment, even the most fiscally conservative Hamilton County commissioners said when they voted March 15 to pass the measure. The county and Chattanooga each are contributing $50,000. Several other municipalities and local utilities are picking up the remaining $59,000.

"It's like having transparencies," County Finance Administrator Louis Wright told commissioners.

Huntsville-based Atlantic Group is providing the service. It took at least four flights on clear days over a 20-day period in March to take multiple photos of each parcel in the county's 575 square miles, GIS manager Greg Butler said.

"We were working on a contract before that storm," Butler said of the March 2 tornadoes. "Some of the imagery was taken before the storm in that area. The vendor also took a flight for us after."

The last flight was taken March 26, and the company now will spend months piecing together photos to get within 2.5-foot accuracy of the land layout.

Though imagery is updated every two years, Butler said he enters property and owner data weekly.

"A lot of Realtors use this online, a lot of your surveyors, engineers," Butler said.

Butler said he roughly expects updated maps for Chattanooga by July 1 and for the county sometime in September.

Commissioner Fred Skillern said the GIS data is valuable to contractors and engineers determining where and how to dig.

"I think it's money very well spent from a safety factor for the county," Skillern said when he voted to approve the expense.

In addition, the new maps would provide a different perspective on storm damage.

"It's a good opportunity for us to see the damage," Commissioner Joe Graham.

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