BLM opts for cost-free digitization

The Bureau of Land Management may have found a means to convert its library

of microfilm land records onto disk at no cost. Actually, the means may

have found the bureau.

Latitudes Inc., a Pueblo, Colo.-based company incorporated last year,

is proposing to digitize public land records in the western states without

charge in exchange for use of the data. It appears to be an offer the bureau

cannot refuse.

BLM officials say Latitudes' no-cost offer represents a "unique approach"

and makes the company "uniquely qualified" to carry out the project. Barring

any adverse response from the public, the bureau will begin nailing down

a formal agreement with Latitudes as a sole-source provider for the work,

said Ronald Corsi, the bureau's contracting officer in Denver.

The records to be digitized include cadastral maps — which detail land

ownership and geographic features, mineral survey notes, plats and other

land survey documentation. Only BLM does cadastral surveys, which are used

to determine the boundaries of federal public lands.

Under the deal, Latitudes, a surveying and land data company, would

be able to use bureau records, which date back to original land grants,

in its own research and also sell the information to other users.

David Quick, a BLM spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the agency is

lucky that this project has fallen into BLM's lap.

"The timing of this is pretty providential for us because we were getting

ready to think about how we would do it ourselves, at who knows what expense,"

Quick said. "Latitudes could have gone to all of our state offices and collected

this stuff and not given us a copy. Instead, they're going to our centralized

office and digitizing it, and we'll get a copy for our own use of the digital

product."

Philip Riker, head of Latitudes, said he has been working on the proposal

for about a year.

"I've had many meetings with these guys just to put this forth," he

said. Riker's plan is to digitize the records for his own business use.

In return for providing access to the records, however, the bureau will

be supplied with its own copies of the disks. "They will get a copy after

several years," Riker said. Exactly how many years is subject to negotiation.

But, Riker said, the bureau would be able to use Latitudes' digital database

in the meantime.

Because the records are currently on microfilm, photographs must be

taken every year of the maps and documents, he said, which becomes costly.

Quick said the public will still be able to get copies of records from

BLM, but it also will have the option of going to Latitudes.

"If someone is enterprising enough to take our free stuff and then

can find somebody to buy it, it may not be upright, but it is not illegal,"

he said.

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