A 81Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Surveyors TAKE NOTE!
On July 12th, 2005, my husband Charles was surveying on a large construction site and came upon a ground hornets’ nest and was stung multiple times. Although he had never had an allergic reaction before, he did on this day and actually went into shock. After 10 hours of life support, we came to realize that there was no hope and had to remove the life support. I am writing to share our story, and to urge surveyors to carry an Epi-Pen or at least Benadryl. Although this was a very rare occurrence, those measures may have saved his life. Perhaps this letter will help to save a life in the future.
Marie Roach Lancaster, PA
Editor’s Note: We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Charles’s family and friends, and hope this letter will encourage all surveyors to take extra safety precautions in the field.

Mitigating Meaning
I enjoyed Wendy Lathrop’s article "The Measure of Mitigation" [June 2005]. Seems the Darby mayor used a stunted yardstick to measure HMGP success. In response to her comment and question at the end of the article–"Mitigation and no adverse impact are aspects of sustainable development whose time has come. Can we phrase them in a way that is seen as beneficial to all parties involved?"–I offer the following [phrases]: Assisting folks to move out of harm’s way as equitably as is reasonably possible in a world that doesn’t always appear fair; or, with less tact, helping downstream folks avoid the rude consequences of the upstream slobs. I hope Lathrop will continue with her writing and lecturing.
—Charlie Storey, LS Via Online Message Center

Lathrop Replies
He is certainly more blunt than I had the nerve to be!–W.L.

Eminent Domain
Regarding Wendy Lathrop’s article "Eminently Unfair" [July/August 2005], it is hard for me to recognize that the government (city, county, state, federal) now has the right to acquire private property in the guise of "improving the neighborhood," and giving the property to a private enterprise just to improve the condition of the agency’s coffers. Eminent domain (at least in Oklahoma and Arkansas) has always been limited to the taking of property to be used for actual public facilities–infrastructure, government structures, etc. I hope the people in Ardmore, PA will have success in their battle against unfounded confiscation of their property.
—Jerry Lavender, PE, LS Via Online Message Center

Lathrop Replies
I’m encouraged to hear support for my view that private land seized for development by private entities is an improper use of condemnation powers. In the interim since I wrote the article, there has not been any news to report on the Ardmore situation, but a similar project has grabbed headlines in our region. A small north Philadelphia business is being condemned to make room for a dozen privately built new houses pricier than anything else in that neighborhood ($150,000 versus about $80,000). In the process, 45 people will be losing their jobs so they won’t be able to afford those new houses, or any others, either. I see no equity in this exchange.

Contrary to what some might think, I am definitely not against growth–after all, it is one of the factors that keeps us in work. However, there is planning that must go along with that growth to keep it smart, sensible, and sustainable. Community involvement rather than dictation to the community must be part of that planning. I witness far too much pressure on communities to bow to developers’ desires, including lawsuits to overcome zoning and planning ordinances that have been in place since before the arrival of the builders.

Is there a divine right to build whatever anyone wants, wherever they want? Kelo v. New London seems to guarantee that right if a community can be convinced that it will reap additional tax base as a result. On the other hand, the mayor of North Haledon, New Jersey recently voiced a warning to other small towns across the nation in a New York Times interview. This urban town of about 8,000 residents in 2002 (in 3.4 square miles) will soon reach 9,000, a 12.5% increase in three years, and struggles to cope with the rapidly increased demand for public works and public police protection. There can be too much of a "good thing." Inability to service new construction means citizen dissatisfaction and an undesirable image for the community, turning the cycle downward once again.

The power to take anyone’s property based on the speculation that there is a more lucrative use of it does not guarantee a balanced budget. Ideally, the Kelo decision would be recanted, but that is not likely. Instead, my hope is that there will be enough public outcry that it will fail to stand as precedent, and that local governments will acknowledge the private rights of their citizens. But local government officials most likely own property that can be condemned for some "higher use" as well, so there is another way to convince them to respect the rights of others.–W.L.

On the PLSS
I read with much interest the articles about the PLSS [Fabric of Surveying series, May 2005], and the responding letter from K.W. Bauer [Feedback, July/Aug 2005]. I started my 40th year in surveying in May of this year and I have been privileged to work on large construction and design projects–both above ground and underground–as well as many boundaries of various sizes. I have been living and working in Georgia for the last 20 years, and I am registered in three public land states and in Georgia and Kentucky as well.

Most of my work in the PLSS was in Illinois. Though the work was both interesting and frustrating at times, when the survey was completed and you knew you had walked in the paths of the original surveyors, it really gave you a sense of accomplishment. In western Illinois I surveyed in the area controlled by the Fourth Principal Meridian, and I worked on numerous surveys along the baseline of the Third Principal Meridian as well as where it was supposed to meet the baseline from the Second Principal Meridian in southeastern part of the state. Even though covered by Tiffin’s rules, each area usually had special quirks sometimes revealed by research and sometimes evidenced only by monumentation and occupation in the field.

I always found the PLSS to be quite a system. Considering the circumstances under which the early surveyors worked, the equipment of their day, and the difficultly of communication in that era, they did a magnificent job. They are to be highly commended for their work.
—Henry Bryan, LS Via Online Message Center

On Accuracy and GPS
I want to comment on the letter by Bill Strange [Feedback, July/Aug 2005] in which he makes a case for coordinates for retracement. I don’t disagree that coordinates can play an important part in retracement, but just like today, there are people that know how to use GPS correctly and then there are people that use GPS. I agree that CORS stations will make the use of coordinates a lot better. However, from first-hand experience, I disagree that coordinates will be the best evidence of where corners should be or where they were established.

First, few surveyors put metadata statements on their plats. Even today, in some areas, you find very little information as to the basis of bearing, whether it is assumed, magnetic and the variation, geodetic, astronomic or whatever. In some areas, where monuments with State Plane Coordinates exist, surveyors will make a tie from a monument on th
eir survey to the SPC monument, but will not state if that tie is grid bearing, if the distance is ground distance or grid distance and then have a statement under the north arrow that north is magnetic, but no statement as to what magnetic north is based on.

I have run into problems with roads designed on neighboring State Plane Coordinate systems that do not agree by a few feet, creating problems when the right-of-ways of the two roads intersect. This presents two coordinate systems to work with and twice as much work to do to get one road rotated to the bearing and position of the other road so the property can be established correctly.

Many older surveyors do not wish to use State Plane Coordinate systems, whether because they do not understand the "new-fangled" stuff, or for fear it will give their competitors an advantage, or whatever other reason it may be. With CORS stations becoming more available every day, surveyors can now invest in one survey-grade GPS unit for about the cost of a total station and put their projects on State Plane Coordinates, and in some areas they can do a lot of the work with a GPS unit. For this they could charge their regular fee, complete the job in less time, and hopefully make a better profit in the long run.

However, even with all that said, it is still important to set monuments that will last for many years. Coordinates are just a way of getting us closer to that point and maybe some day when all surveyors work to the same standard and use similar methods and equipment, then coordinates will enable them to find the monuments that were set many years prior.

We should do the best we can for our employers to make their jobs as easy as possible, and have that same attitude about our work for future surveyors. It is incumbent upon us to leave as much information as possible (including metadata on plats) for the future surveyors who will walk in our paths.
—Henry Bryan, LS Via Online Message Center

More on Accuracy and GPS
I am responding to the letter by Bill Strange entitled "Accuracy and GPS" which took issue with Leininger’s article "Prioritizing Coordinates" [March/April 2005].

Surveyors of any discipline realize that coordinates derived from GPS and conventional observations are manipulated, translated and scaled just as is pointed out in the article.

Mr. Strange has reached conclusions with respect to future retracement using published coordinates that a boundary surveyor would be foolish to adhere to. He seems to believe there is a need to point to the use of GPS and other sophisticated survey equipment and the achievable positional certainty they produce as though surveyors who use the equipment regularly are unaware of their capabilities.

This surveyor wholeheartedly agrees with Leininger’s position on prioritizing coordinates. What sort of evidence would a published NAD83 position of a corner on a survey document provide in future retracement? We have all observed published positions on NGS control monuments change in time. This is undeniable.

A stand-alone published NAD83 position leaves many questions a retracing surveyor needs to answer in evaluating the position as a valuable piece of evidence. Let me recite just a few. Was the position derived from a static session or a drive by shooting? What were the coordinates of the NAD83 control points used on the date of survey and what are the coordinates on the same points on the date of retracement? Have the original surveyed coordinates been altered in any way? Is the coordinate in some electronic data base subject to point editing? The fewer answers there are to appropriate questions, the less valuable the published coordinate becomes as evidence.

Can a published position of a missing corner be compared with other field evidence to check for harmony? Absolutely, and if found in harmony the corner should likely be replaced in the published position. But caution is well advised to a retracing surveyor who has only a published position with few answers to the questions about its origin, particularly if it results in conflict to existing conditions. He should seriously consider if he has confidence to determine the corner obliterated by virtue of a published coordinate rather than lost by lack of enough supporting evidence.
—Norm Miller Via Online Message Center

Got some feedback? We always enjoy hearing from our readers. You can contact us via our website at, or send a letter to: The American Surveyor, P.O. Box 4162, Frederick, MD 21705-4162. We reserve the right to edit letters for clarity and length. Due to the variety of titles used by licensed surveyors throughout the U.S., we use the title LS after the name of any registered land surveyor.

A 81Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE