Letters to the Editor

No Dispute
Regarding Teresa L. Smithson’s article, “Coordinates as Boundary Evidence”:

I would like to point out an error in the last sentence of the second paragraph of the article which I believe has a profound effect on some of the other arguments made later in the article. The author quotes the Theriault vs. Murray case of 1991 and then says, “This priority of evidence has been affirmed repeatedly by the courts since the 1800s.”

The history of surveying in America will show that the first surveys in this country were done in the early 1600s (here in New England Popham Colony was formed in 1607 and Plymouth Colony was formed in 1620). When we became des Etats d’Unis in 1783, 10s of thousands of parcels had been created and hundreds of thousands of monuments had been set while we were still British colonies. The British laws (and case law) regarding those boundaries have exactly the same priorities as are now held by the U.S. courts and stated in Theriault vs Murray in 1991. The case in 1991 was simply reiterating “case” law that was at least 350 years old!

My concern is not with the accuracies in a world coordinate system. As pointed out, it will not be long before the accuracies that can be obtained will satisfy even the severest critic. My concern is that we have long since either lost or ignored many of the original monuments which created the “parent” parcel. I believe the danger is that not only laymen but also surveyors, and more importantly the need to thoroughly and comprehensively establish where the original monuments were, will become less important. 

I believe that even for surveyors it is difficult to believe that a monument at the corner of a parcel described with bearings to the nearest degree and distances to the nearest link could possibly be better than a corner described to the 0.0001 second of arc! We become so enamored with the complicated mathematical intricacies, most which we do not understand very well, that we assume it is better than looking for original monuments. My experience convinces me that a surveyor who testifies in a court of law and shows the court with old records that the monument he found was the monument called for in the original deed will prevail over the surveyor who has the latitude and longitude of the corner they are arguing is the correct corner.

Remember, the courts still consider the original or oldest monuments better evidence than coordinates ... if you are to change their minds I believe that you must convince them (and the survey profession) that you have coordinated that monument mentioned in the original or oldest deed.

David C. Garcelon
Harpswell, ME

Mr. Garcelon,
I am in total agreement with you.  At no time did I ever propose changing case law and the priority of calls in regards to original monumentation. I, too, have been frustrated over those who feel compelled to set a monument up against one they have found. Unfortunately, a good class in statistics and precision would not help.  So instead, I will refer you to my article:

Pg1, ¶1, line 1: “In the event that no monumentation remains of an original survey…”

Pg1, ¶2: “Case law has established vector measurements as factual evidence … albeit last-resort evidence”

Pg1, ¶6, line 1: “The courts should consider coordinates as factual evidence at least equal to vector measurements in establishing lost original boundary corners.”  (emphasis added)

Last pg, last ¶, line 1 as a conclusion: “In order for the courts to accept coordinates as the best available evidence in replacing lost corners …” (emphasis added)

So, the entire discussion of usurping original corners and changing the intent of case law is not one I have ever broached. However, I enjoyed your discussion. I grew up in the east and am very aware of the wonderful history to be found in old walls, buildings, etc., but have never surveyed there.  I just chose to go back to Theriault because it was the easiest place to start without muddying the paper.

Teresa Smithson

Ms. Smithson,

Thanks very much for your quick reply, and please forgive the unintended insinuation that you were advocating coordinates rather than original monumentation.

For years, I have preached how easy it would be to “densify” the USC&GS geodetic network, as well as “heighting” control points with USC&GS and USGS benchmarks. If we had done so when the networks were first available to us (boundary surveyors) I believe it would be far easier to at least have latitude and longitude talked about in case law.  If we had been saying in a court of law, “I found the original monument, here is why I believe it is the original monument, AND here are its latitude and longitude,” we would be in a far better position to argue for their acceptance in our courts. After all, It wasn’t long after the US Coast Survey developed their network that they surveyed and coordinated several political boundaries in the west, and all those USCS defined boundaries are the accepted legal position of the boundaries today.

Thank you for your thought-provoking article.

David Garcelon

The Future Is a 4-year Degree

Dear Editor:
The future of surveying could be brighter if surveyors were allowed to do more projects now restricted to engineers. I believe the 4-year degree of an engineer was the deciding factor in who does what.

With the new requirements of a 4-year college degree for surveyors, which always was a requirement for engineers, both professions now have equal formal educations. The laws have not changed to reflect this new education requirement to grant responsibility to surveyors as design professionals.

Surveyors with a 4-year degree should be allowed to do road design, currently a profession restricted to engineers.  As a surveyor I have done the topo survey for preliminary road design; in the office I have done the earthwork calculations; in the field I have laid out roads for construction; engineers do not do this.

William J. Lathan

Problem 266
Thank you all readers who wrote us about the erroneous solution to problem 266.  We have since amended the solution on our website. The problem corner writer reminds us that, “There are two easily constructed answers. I added the calculation coordinates to aid anyone with their plotting.”

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