Licensing Bill Raises Ire of Surveyors

Montgomery – February 18, 2008 – A bill to loosen licensing requirements for surveying in rural areas of Alabama is drawing fire from professional surveyors who say that it could spawn problems and disputes for landowners.

Its supporters, however, contend that it would address a shortage of surveying services in rural areas that has increased surveying costs statewide.

A version sponsored by state Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, would allow those who have worked with a professional surveyor for eight years and provide three letters of recommendation to qualify as surveyors in areas of 5,000 residents or less.

State Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, plans to introduce a Senate version this week, saying it is tough to find surveyors charging reasonable prices in his largely rural district.

"It’s almost impossible to get a license to survey," he said. "And the way they’ve got their rules now, you can’t do anything. You can’t run lines on your own land."

The bill emerged after John Boney, a retired process engineer and city councilman in Butler, offered to survey a cemetery in Butler in November 2006.

Boney, who is not a registered surveyor, received a letter of reprimand from the state Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. That led him to contact Lindsey and Keahey about the bill.

Boney said he did the work after a professional surveyor said the project would cost the city $30,000. The project, he said, did not justify the cost.

"PVC pipe made everyone a plumber," he said. "The wire welder made everybody a welder. GPS made everyone a surveyor."

Ann Galloway, executive director of the Alabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors, said the bill would lead to poor surveys that cause lawsuits and confusion about titles and boundaries. The bill would "set surveying back 50 years," she said.

"What is most important to someone besides God and family? It would be land," Galloway said. "They’re not making more land.

"Everyone has a right to know where their lines are," she said.

Currently, surveyors in Alabama must spend four years earning a degree in surveying or an equivalent subject, work a four-year apprenticeship and pass three professional tests before receiving licenses.

Under Keahey’s bill, the three people sending letters of recommendation for a prospective rural surveyor would not need to possess surveying credentials. Peter Olivero, a licensed surveyor based in Mobile, said that’s the equivalent of licensing someone after "three buddies" write on his behalf.

Olivero and others said that professional credentials are particularly important in rural areas, which tend to have more difficult terrain and murkier ownership records. "They may say there’s less skill required in rural areas, but anyone who’s surveyed knows the opposite is true," Olivero said.

Olivero does surveying work for Mobile County but spoke in his capacity as a licensed surveyor.

The State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors also opposes the bill. Regina Dinger, the board’s executive director, said "it would definitely be going backward in its protection of the public."

The Alabama Farmers Federation supports more surveyors for rural areas, but has taken no position on the bill, according to spokesman Jeff Helms.

Helms said that surveyor shortages have driven up surveying prices in rural areas. "That’s what our members have said, particularly in recent years with the building boom in the Southeast, that it’s more difficult to find somebody to perform those services in rural areas," he said.

Keahey said the surveying community had been in touch with him about the bill. "I’m not trying to ram something down people’s throats," he said. "A constituent of mine asked me to file it. But at the same time, I know other people have concerns with it and I hope to work through it with them before we move it too far."