E for Experience: The Mimic

These stories are true; names and some details have been altered to ensure confidentiality.

This is a story of three rules, seemingly unconnected, that converged into an unusual consequence. The first is a rule of the Louisiana State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (LaPELS). The second is a rule of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LaDWF). The third is a Louisiana State Law concerning hunting on private land.

The LaPELS' "Minimum Standards for Property Boundary Surveys" states in ch2907 E 3(a) "Monuments of a ferrous material must have at least 1/2 inch outside diameter, and must be at least 18 inches in length (longer in soft or unstable soil)."

The LaDWF was receiving numerous complaints about wire crab traps that became separated from their buoys and were drifting into waterways and becoming entangled in the propellers of boats. The answer was to require all crab traps to carry an identification tag and be weighted down by iron bars wired to the bottom corners. These bars were to be at least 1/2 inch in diameter and 18 inches long.

Louisiana Law requires that all persons hunting on private property have in their possession a written lease or permit from the land owner. This prompted hunting clubs to mark the lease boundaries with bright orange flagging that would show up clearly in a flashlight beam to keep hunters from wandering onto adjacent properties on their way to deer stands.

As a result of the last two rules, every hunting and hardware store began to stock rolls of surveyors' flagging and every crab fisherman had a pile of 1/2 inch by 18 inch rebars behind the shed.

"Judge Farber on one," Marie said into the intercom.

I have known Aaron Farber since childhood. We grew up on the same stretch of dirt road in Chalmette, Louisiana. We played sand lot ball together, sometimes on the same team, sometimes not. The road is paved now and lined with houses at one end and offices at the other. Aaron graduated from LSU, went on to become an attorney, and then a judge. We have remained friends, though not close. I pressed the button to pick up line 1.

"Steve, remember that survey you did for me on Bayou Lapin Gris?" Aaron said.

I swallowed hard. Conversations that begin with "Remember that survey?" often are a prelude to a problem.

"Not specifically, Judge," I said. "It's been a long time."

"I'm finally building a boat dock and a fishing camp and according to your survey, I have a frontage of 75 feet, but when I measure between the rods you set, I get only 73 feet 7 inches."

"Give me a chance to dig up my file on it, and I'll call you back," I replied.

Judge Farber gave me his private number and rang off.

"Rats!" I thought. "Of all the surveys to screw up, it had to be Judge Farber's."

I retrieved the notes and survey plat from the file and called up the ACAD master drawing on the PC. I had encompassed the inhabited portions of Bayou Lapin Gris with a control traverse that connected all of the surveys together. This made it simple to spot any apparent gaps or overlaps in the deeds. There was no subdivision plan as each of the parcels were created at different times, from different parent tracts and defined by metes and bounds.

The notes indicated that the two corners along the bayou were set from the same control station. Dual backsights were used, which is SOP. The gun was sighted on the trail station of the traverse, the record azimuth was set on the instrument, and the distance measured to verify that the backsight was set on the correct station. The gun was then turned to the azimuth for the lead station. The notes indicated that the lead station was observed at the distance and direction consistent with the control traverse.

Both points were set at the distance and directions called for in the master drawing and the distance between them was measured and verified at 75 feet. Later work that set the rear points included a verification tie to one of the front corners and to another station on the control traverse. All work checked and included sufficient redundancy. I was at a loss as to how a front corner could now fail to check a simple distance between corners. I called the Judge and set a time to meet him at the property.

The community along Bayou Lapin Gris had consisted of commercial fishermen, but recently the modest homes were being converted into fishing and hunting camps by an influx of wealthy businessmen and professionals from the city. Land values have sky-rocketed and slowly commercial fishermen have been selling out to the "Sports," as these newcomers are derisively referred to by the old timers.

What Judge Farber called his "camp" was a spacious home by any other measure. The old house on his north side (upstream) was the home of a working crab fisherman. The house on the south side was being remodeled by another sport. The water frontage had been bulkheaded and Aaron was preparing to construct a dock and gazebo.

The Judge met me at his driveway and escorted me to each of the corner marks. Both were 1/2 inch iron rods and flagged with orange ribbon. When we pulled a chain between the marks the distance was 73.59 feet.

"Well, Judge," I started, "I'll re-run the lines to see what is wrong here."

I left him at his driveway and drove to the trail station and stacked a backsight. Then I went to the lead station and did the same. I then returned to the control station near the Farber Tract and occupied it. The directions and distances to both trail and lead stations checked, so I turned the azimuth to the southern corner and sent my rodman, Joe Figgaro, to give me a shot on the iron rod. It checked bang on for distance and direction.

"That one checks," I said to Aaron, who was breathing down my neck.

I turned the azimuth to the northern corner. Sure enough, I missed the rod by a foot and a half.

"That one doesn't check, Judge," I said.

I directed Joe to the correct location for the corner, which fell on a new gravel driveway to the neighbor property. I wanted to check for a rod before doing anything else.

"Mark that spot with a dab of paint, Joe, and get the metal detector," I ordered.

When we searched with the detector we got a strong hit right where Joe marked the driveway.

"What's going on?" asked Aaron.

"I'm going to search for a rod," I said. "How old is that driveway?"

Aaron speculated that his neighbor placed the gravel driveway about two months ago, which squeezed between a large oak tree and the iron rod that was discovered to be off. As Joe dug through the gravel, I noted that the location did not provide enough room for a car to pass between the tree and the corner.

"Got it, Boss," Joe called out as he cleared the dirt away from the iron rod. The rod was below the gravel and flush with the natural ground. It too had orange flagging around it.

"There's your corner, Judge," I said, as I returned to the gun to verify the distance and azimuth.

"I would not have believed it, Steve," Aaron said. "Where did that other rod come from?"

"Got me, Judge. I'm just glad my mark wasn't knocked out because there is no way I could have convinced you that the other rod wasn't set by me."

"No kidding. I can hardly believe it now and I saw you dig up the original with my own eyes. Don't surveyors have some way of marking the rods so that we could know which one is legitimate?"

"There has been talk of requiring a cap or tag with the surveyor's name or registration number on it, but a majority of surveyors have not been receptive to the idea. Many are worried that people could move the markers and the presence of a tag would give it greater weight. I don't see how that would be any different that what has happened here. I don't know if there is a solution to the problem of people placing marks that mimic a surveyor's monument."

It was with great relief that I left Bayou Lapin Gris and Judge Aaron Farber. I ordered a bucket of rod caps with my registration number. I haven't been satisfied with that system; I've found that the caps pulled off the rods quite easily when dug up. Maybe the State Board will amend the rules to require mark identification, maybe not. That debate continues, but I think I'm becoming convinced that it might be a good idea.

About the Author

  • Stephen Estopinal, PE, PLS
    Stephen Estopinal, PE, PLS
    Stephen Estopinal, PE, PLS is assistant division manager and senior project manager at SJB Group, LLC in Louisiana. He has been involved in the practice of land surveying for more than 30 years and is the author of "A Guide to Understanding Land Surveys 3rd ed." John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2009.

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