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Peter Polivka, student assistant for GeoMapNW, displays maps of Vashon Island that were created as part of The Pacific Northwest Center for Geologic Mapping project.

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Students Ryan White and John Perreault work to finish a mapping project for the city of Bellevue in the remaining days of the GeoMapNW program.

The UW center that maps geological data and hazards for the Seattle area will close April 30 if new funding sources are not secured.

The Pacific Northwest Center for Geologic Mapping (GeoMapNW) produces maps in order to understand the geology of the central Puget Sound Lowland. Due to the economic downturn, fewer cities can pay for new maps to be produced. Both the city of Seattle and King County have pulled their funding for the center, which had amounted to around $100,000 a year.

The center has cut hours, salaries and staff. Kathy Troost, director of GeoMapNW, said she has been forced to lay off a long-time employee because of the budget cuts.

“To operate fully, we need about $500,000 a year,” Troost said. “We currently have about $75,000.”

High-resolution maps, including 3-D digital models, are used by consulting firms, the city of Seattle, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and other groups and cities. They are used to calculate the risk of seismic damage in neighborhoods in and around Seattle. In addition, more than 84,000 boreholes, test pits, wells and other explorations have been mapped.

“One important tool of these interactive geology maps is you can tell whether subsurface activities have been performed,” said Dean Griswold, a geo-technical engineer with the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development. “Information is invaluable through this tool.”

Griswold said that other City of Seattle departments also use GeoMapNW.

“Those maps are used for information, like geological-hazard maps and infiltration maps and various kinds of other derivatives, like seismic-shaking maps,” Troost said. “We provide the foundation for the seismic-shaking maps that are used for buildings.”

GeoMapNW began in 1998, under a different name, as a collaboration between the USGS, the UW and the City of Seattle. Since then, the center has expanded its research. Most recently, high-resolution geologic maps have been completed for Kirkland and Mercer Island. While mapping is currently being finished for Bellevue. Eastside cities such as Redmond and Woodinville have not been explored.

If GeoMapNW is forced to close, its Web site could remain until another organization is found to host its database, but the database and maps would not be updated.

Troost said geo-technical consulting firms will lose a valuable resource without updated information. “[They] use the Web site on a daily basis,” she said.

David McCormack, an associate engineering geologist with Aspect Consulting, said the firm uses GeoMapNW at least a few times a week.

“We’re an earth-science consulting firm, so everything we do involves soil or ground water to some degree,” he said. “GeoMapNW has been a great collector of that information — in fact, they’re the only thing around. … They basically get people in the planning and consulting communities talking to people that are researchers, so there’s much quicker access to new and relative information. If the center closes, there’s another link that has been severed.”

User fees are being considered as an option for GeoMapNW, which would charge firms and others to use the database. Troost said the process of setting up a user fee through the UW Web site is extensive, however, and may not be possible for the center to do.

“When new information is obtained, the maps can be updated and they can be refined,” Griswold said. “If GeoMapNW closes down, that process will grind to a halt.”

Reach reporter Bryden McGrath at news@dailyuw.com.

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