The Kenai Peninsula Borough will soon be moving into the age of “remote sensing.” The assembly approved a nearly-half-million-dollar no-bid contract with a company to provide the borough with “Pictometry Oblique Imagery” for the purposes of property assessment. Currently, the borough assesses real property from the ground. The contract with Bellevue-based EagleView will be for photographing private property from the air.
Nikiski Assemblyman Jessie Bjorkman, however, felt that was an invasion of privacy.
“And is this satellite imagery? Are we talking about drones that take these images of people's properties? How many times a year are our people's properties going to be photographed by the big eye in the sky?” Bjorkman asked.
Borough Appraisal Manager Adeena Wilcox reassured Bjorkman that the operation has privacy tools built in.
“The nice thing about these programs, they come with blur tools, you can blur out license plates, you can remove kids in the yard. The same thing I do when I'm in the field is making sure I don't get those in my photographs we can do with this technology,” Wilcox said. “It's going to allow us though, to inspect properties from afar. Right now we have, large concerns from taxpayers, not wanting us to interact with their families on their properties of fear that either we're going to expose them to COVID-19 or as me as a manager, I don't want my staff to be exposed to it.”
Mayor Charlie Pierce said the service could represent a cost savings for the borough by providing photography to departments in addition to assessing.
“We're spending a lot of money, borough-wide with, various departments, picking up photography. And this could be a cost savings across the board, within the borough. If the information can be found to be useful,” Pierce said. “We think it would be.”
Wilcox agreed, saying it will give managers in all departments a new tool to work with.
“Like the mayor said, with the flood areas over in Seward, bluff erosion along the Kenai, you know, there are different things that we actually, don't see very well standing there that we might have a better view with an oblique imagery,” Wilcox said.
Bjorkman was unconvinced though, likening the program to spying.
“Where I draw the line is I am absolutely against having assessing done with spy planes. I think that people are not going to respond well.”
Bjorkman was the only assembly member who felt that way, though, and he was the lone dissenting vote when the bid was awarded on a 7-to-1 vote (Assemblyman Norm Blakeley was absent).