Stories From the "E" Files: Timber!
Professional Surveyor Magazine - March 2011
Stephen Estopinal, PE, PLS
Joe Figgaro, PLS, arrived at lot 23, Sylvia Park, in Meraux, Louisiana, prepared to conduct a simple boundary recovery. The request was not the typical ALTA/ACSM land title survey from a title insurance company, nor was it the result of a boundary dispute. According to the notes attached to the survey request and information packet, the owner of lot 23 “didn’t want a land survey, he just wanted to know where his boundaries were.”
The owner, Mike Boudreaux, was waiting for Joe when he pulled up to the house.
“I need to know if this tree is on my land,” Mike said, indicating a tall Cherrybark Oak in the front yard.
The oak was about 30 inches in diameter, and, because it had matured when the land was a dense forest, it was tall and lacked significant branches lower than fifteen feet or so above the ground. The canopy of the 40-foot tree spread out like a big, leafy balloon that shimmied in the wind.
Mike had just returned from a morning fishing trip, so while Joe began searching for the corners, Mike backed his boat and trailer into his side yard, unhitched the trailer, and lowered the motor. Mike had been fishing in one of the many saltwater bays along coastal Louisiana, so he attached his garden hose to an adapter clamped on the motor’s cooling water intake and started the engine to flush the cooling system with fresh water. While the motor was running, he placed an ice chest full of fish on the boat’s front seat.
Meanwhile Joe recovered and verified the iron pipes marking the front corners as well as one rear marker along the side in question. He called Mike over to make a verbal report.
“The tree is mostly on your side of the line,” Joe explained. Directed by his instrument man, Joe marked a line on the edge of the tree with a lumber crayon. The line failed to clear the tree by only two inches.
“Then it is my tree,” Mike said. “And down she comes.”
“No sir,” Joe said. “I don’t think it’s that simple. You need to talk to an attorney before you do anything.”
“You’re the surveyor,” Mike said. “You said the tree is 90% on my land, so it’s my tree.”
“I can tell you where the boundary line runs,” Joe insisted. “I advise you to consult an attorney before you take the tree down.”
“It’ll be okay,” Mike said. “I know the guy that owns the lot next door; he doesn’t care.” The lot that shared a portion of the tree was vacant.
“Then it shouldn’t be a problem to talk to him before you cut the tree down,” Joe said.
“Naw,” Mike said. He went into a storage shed behind his house and returned with a chain saw, which he started. “I’ll show you how it’s done,” Mike yelled over the roar of the saw. He began to cut a fall notch on the side of the tree facing the vacant lot.
Alerted by the sound of the saw, several neighbors began to gather. Joe retreated to his truck and moved it down the street a hundred feet and watched from the cab.
Mike finished the fall notch and circled to the other side of the tree to make the final cut. When he was nearly through, the saw bound and the engine died.
“Give me a hand,” Mike yelled, and one of his neighbors joined him at the trunk of the tree. Both men pushed on the tree toward the vacant lot, straining with the effort. The tree gave a “snap” and began to twist on the narrow splinter of wood that connected the tree to the stump.
“She’s going the wrong way!” someone yelled.
The tree began to fall toward Mike’s yard. No amount of pushing by the men was having any effect on the direction the tree was falling.
“Run!” someone else yelled.
Mike and his neighbors ran into the street as the tree groaned and snapped. Then it fell … slowly at first but gaining speed until it was just a blur. The chain-link along Mike’s yard was crushed as if it were paper. The tree landed directly on Mike’s outboard motor, driving it down into the mud.
The mad rush from Mike’s yard had slowed when the route of the falling tree had become obvious. Now that same crowd moved toward the remains of Mike’s boat, trailer, and motor.
Suddenly there was a loud pop as something struck the ground near the huddled clump of awestruck witnesses. Then there was another pop, and another.
“Ow!” Mike yelled. Something had hit him on the shoulder. It was a can of beer. Everyone scattered, hands over their heads, as chunks of ice mixed with exploding cans of beer and diet Coke showered down. Beer and diet Coke sprayed from split cans and drizzled out of the roof’s downspouts.
The last thing to come crashing down was the ice chest.
No one had been seriously hurt—there were a few bumps from full beer cans, but it could have been a disaster. Mike examined the accident site while the growing crowd of neighbors laughed and jeered.
The tree had driven the boat’s motor into the mud down to the water pump tell-tail. The transom of the boat was crushed. Mike’s garden hose snaked down into the ground next to the outboard motor’s drive train, and the hole bubbled up tap water. The tree had driven the rear of the boat down so hard and fast that the ice chest had been catapulted into the sky.
Neighbors returned with their own chain saws, and the tree was turned into a stack of firewood at the end of Mike’s driveway in short order. Bark debris and woodchips covered the backyard, and a section of fence was crushed to the ground. The boat sat crazily on the trailer; boat and trailer pointed toward the sky like some giant avant-garde sculpture.
Joe finished his survey notes, including a synopsis of his conversation with Mike, and had his instrument man and helper sign the page. He drove away without another word to Mike.
About the Author
Stephen Estopinal, PE, PLSStephen 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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