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Digital Cemetery

City of Marion employee Terrence Henry explains the results of his work of the digital map in Marion as city commissioner John Goss looks on.

MARION — When is the last time you thought about the things that lie underground on or near your home?

“Everyone concentrates on what’s above ground, they don’t think about what lies below ground,” said Terrence Henry, IT director for the City of Marion.

Marion has miles of sewer lines, and to help keep track of them, Marion Wastewater Treatment Plant and its employees, along with Henry and other partners, are adding sewer lines to the city’s interactive map.

“To locate those lines in the City of Marion, we have the luxury of having some employees who have been there for quite some time. A lot of knowledge has been handed down throughout the years,” Henry said. “As our workforce gets older, we needed to try to find a way to download the information that is in their heads.”

About four years go, Brent Cain, director of Marion Wastewater Treatment Plant, Henry and other city representatives took a one-day course on GIS mapping at Rend Lake College.

“Terrence fell in love with it and I realized the importance of what it can do,” Cain said. “It’s been about that long since we’ve started thinking in terms of how we were going to map our sewer systems.”

They began the process of mapping sewer lines with a hand-held GPS device, and as technology improved, the city upgraded and began to create an interactive, web-based GIS map.

Cain gave an update to the city council on Nov. 13.

Cain said new EPA regulations encouraged the use of a database to store information about the activities of the wastewater treatment plant.

“Not only is this map an actual map that the guys can use to locate utilities or anything like that, we can also put information into this map with regards to how often we are maintaining lines, where manhole XYZ is, how deep is it and what is it made of,” Cain said.

City employees can attach information and maintenance videos of the lines to track conditions of the lines.

“You can drive down the road and see the potholes, but the only way to know what is going on underground is to get in, take a video and look at it — outside of a complete failure of the system. We don’t want to really wait that long to know what is going on,” Cain said.

“We have guys in the field outfitted with iPads, guys who never had to do anything with technology. They have capability to add things to the map,” Henry said.

Cain said the project went full force last summer. They contracted with Clarida Zeiger to survey the remaining lines, get coordinates and depths and get types of materials. That led to the map they have now.

“It is still a work in progress. Still, have a little more work to do, but the map is 95 percent complete,” Cain said.

The map is viewable on the city website or from the City of Marion app, which is available to download free of charge for Apple and Android phones. It has a public view and a private view. The private view allows city employees to edit and apply information to the map.

Mayor Robert Butler asked what the total cost of the project was. Cain answered that it was about $250,000, with the funds coming out of the city’s operating budget. Adding that the city had the money to do this and that it replaces ineffective paper maps.

“Everything is going to be included in this one map, and we’re going to have it forever,” Cain said. “It’s not like you are going out and buying a road atlas. We are buying a place to store information forever.”

Wastewater Treatment Plant staff has uploaded 107 videos and mapped 2,413 manholes and 120 miles of gravity mains.

“You’re suggesting this will bring the city into the 21st century?” Mayor Butler asked.

“Undoubtedly,” Cain replied.

“I tell you this is fantastic and you’re to be commended for the work you’re doing,” Butler said.

Cain said it was a team effort that included everyone from the wastewater treatment plant to Henry and William Barrett to Horner and Shifrin.

“There’s a lot of people involved in making it happen. I was my idea and I knew it needed to be done, but definitely I’m not the one doing the work,” Cain said.

Henry said each city department is working on an aspect of the map.

For more information or to view the map, visit

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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