In Washington State, as in many other states, cities and counties are compelled by state law to develop shoreline management plans for shorelines of state-wide significance. The Washington Shoreline Management Act requires local jurisdictions to create comprehensive plans that establish appropriate shoreline uses, protect environmental resources, and ensure public access to shorelines. The heavily populated Puget Sound has especially been a management priority; in 2005 Washington State’s Governor Gregoire established the Puget Sound Partnership to protect the second largest estuary in the U.S., with the express goal of “identifying significant ecosystem problems, evaluate potential solutions, and restore and preserve critical nearshore habitat” (Nyerges et al., 2007). As a related initiative, the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other state and federal agencies, tribes, industries, and environmental organizations. Most comprehensive planning laws require the involvement of the public in the decision making process. As a result, jurisdictions have begun to explore collaborative methods of planning (Koontz, 2005). Collaboration shifts power away from planning practices that are dominated by expert planners and government officials, and relies more upon community members. Most existing data related to shoreline management is developed by experts at government agencies (Talen, 2000). In addition to existing expert data, local knowledge from residents is needed to fill data gaps in large state-wide datasets and create data related to specific local concerns. Internet technology is increasingly being used to document local knowledge in a geospatial context for use in environmental planning (Carver, Evans, Kingston, and Turton, 2001; Cordner, 2007; Hall and Leahy, 2006; Rantanen and Kahila, 2009).
To facilitate the incorporation of local knowledge into shoreline management planning processes, RGIS-Pacific Northwest (PN) developed an internet-based data collection methodology that is part of a public participatory geographic information system (PGIS). To develop the project, 1) gaps that exist in expert generated data related to shoreline environmental resources along the Puget Sound were identified through review of literature and geospatial data sources; 2) a determination was made as to which of these data can be collected using local knowledge; 3) a methodology and techniques were developed to collect these data in a spatial context over the internet with consistency and reliability, focusing on a representative pilot area along the Puget Sound, and 4) a spatial database to contain local knowledge was developed for incorporation into shoreline management and planning.
Data collection utilizes an interactive map that allows participants to digitize points, lines, or polygons representing different shoreline features using a web browser and attach attributes to those features. The internet-based PGIS was created using software that is mature and actively being developed and additionally, free and open source. The website was developed using OpenLayers for client-side mapping, Geoserver for serving spatial datasets over the internet, PostgreSQL/PostGIS for storing spatial data, and PHP for server-side scripting.