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Visual Assessment Tools Show User’s Perspective on How a Project Will Look

April 27, 2022 by Randy Nolden

It is a fact of life that people rarely want solid waste facilities to be located near their neighborhoods. A visual impact assessment can play a part in appeasing adjacent property owners by showing what the project will look like when it is complete. Powerful software tools can help tell the story from the perspective of an adjacent property owner or nearby residence.

The visual assessment starts with a desktop study to determine key observation points (KOPs). Designers then go out to the site to take photos and gather accurate GPS data from the photo locations and reference points in the photos. CAD and GIS software can be used to create a line-of-sight analysis that uses field photos along with plan view imagery to clearly show what can and cannot be seen in the line-of-sight profile. This data is then brought back to the office and added to 3D models to create highly accurate representations of what the site will look like when complete.

Here is a step-by-step description of the process that can be used to help a community envision a project’s visual impact. The images are taken from a visualization that enabled officials at Marathon County Landfill, near Wausau, Wisconsin to show the community the visual impact of a planned expansion. The County was required to “include visual projections from at least four key observation points and include leaf-on and leaf-off conditions.”

Step 1—Assemble Plans

Use final plans to prepare a 3D model, including a landscaping plan if available.

Figure 1-Marathon -final-plan

Step 2—Analyze the Viewshed and Determine KOPs

Run a viewshed analysis using the proposed site data along with LiDAR data to determine KOPs, intersections, and adjacent property owners.

Figure-2-Viewshed analysis-KOPs

Step 3—Take Field Photos

Take photos at KOPs to document photo location coordinates and reference location coordinates and descriptions.


Step 4—Use Photoshop to Clear Trees

If needed, Photoshop the original photo to show the site after a virtual clearing and grubbing. Use aerial imagery and LiDAR to determine heights of trees in the background and create an approximate updated background.


Step 5—Export the Model and Create the Final Image

Use field photo data and the 3D model to export an image of the proposed site along with the Photoshopped image as the background. Perform additional Photoshopping to show the proposed facility in perspective.


Step 6—Finish Any Additional Requirements

In this case, we were required to show leaf-on conditions depicting the site with full foliage on the surrounding trees.


As technology is developed, design teams are investigating how augmented reality might be used in the future. The ultimate goal is to provide clients, regulatory agencies, and adjacent property owners an app for their phone or tablet that will let them “see” the site dynamically. Rather than the static view presented with current visual simulations, users would be able to have a dynamic view of the proposed site from any location surrounding the site.

This blog is based on an article that originally ran in Waste Advantage Magazine.

About the Author

Randy Nolden is a project manager and senior designer at Tetra Tech with more than 20 years of experience conducting visual impact assessments as part of his civil and environmental engineering design, construction, and surveying work for solid waste landfills. He serves as a project manager, project designer, resident project representative, or office engineer for various major municipal and industrial solid waste design and construction projects.

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