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Letters to the Editor: April 2000

April 20, 2000
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Readers speak out on setting proper corners.

"The Soap Box"
December 1999

After reading Charles Craft's article "Setting proper corners is the first step towards gaining respect" in the December issue of POB, one is left with the impression that a "proper" corner is simply larger, or more durable. Is a 2" iron pipe that's 36" long more "proper" than a 1/2" rebar? Personally, I am more concerned with how a monument is established than what it is made of. I fully agree that the setting of double monuments is damaging our reputation as professionals, but what is a "proper" corner?

It takes years of resolving different boundaries in different situations to master the art of surveying. These skills are not learned in college with a four-year degree.

Our image as professionals is damaged when we set double monuments, when we resolve a boundary totally different from a previous survey, and when we publicly criticize others in our profession. We've all heard complaints from the public: "Every time a surveyor comes out here, the lines change." One of the purposes of licensure is for consistency in the way surveyors perform their work. The public should not receive a significantly different boundary by hiring surveyor "A" as opposed to surveyor "B," but they often do. After the introduction of distance meters, total stations and computers, surveyors had at their fingertips ways of measuring lines with accuracy unheard of just 10 years earlier. Unfortunately, this obsession with accuracy has made some people entering the profession "measurers" instead of surveyors. Now, it's common to see maps with cute details showing monuments "0.02 feet from true corner." Let's get real here, two hundredths of a foot isn't even off the top of a 1/2" rebar! These same surveyors might traverse a 2-mile loop, close a foot off, perform a least squares adjustment and then call another surveyor "off" by 0.1 foot! Then, to make matters worse, another monument is set right next to the original. John Q. Public looks for the corner and finds two monuments. He's just paid a lot of money for a survey, and he still doesn't know where his corner is. To a lay person, we are all in competition, trying to "out-measure" each other.

Many states have problems with double monumentation. In some areas it is not uncommon to find a section corner having 10 monuments within a 2-foot radius. Surveyors can use the multiple-choice option or tie into the most recent monument, thinking that it's the most accurate. Accuracy is not the guiding principal of whether or not to accept a monument. If another surveyor chained over steep, brushy terrain 30 years ago, setting a quarter corner at midpoint, are you going to reject the monument because you have measured the midpoint a few feet differently with $50,000 worth of GPS equipment? Prior surveys have to be scrutinized with respect to when they were done and what tools were available at the time. I've also seen a chiseled cross in a sidewalk be rejected on maps for a few hundredths of a foot, even though it had probably been there for longer than we have been alive. I've seen street centerline monuments, which are not even called for on the original map, used to call original redwood monuments "off."

In my opinion, this obsession with measurement has drawn us away from what surveying is all about. Measuring is a science; surveying is an art. Rejecting another surveyor's monument should be based on the fact that incorrect procedures were used to set the prior monument and not simply because you have measured a line differently. Some acceptable ratios of error should be evaluated based on when the work was done and not compared to today's standards of accuracy.

A hundred years ago, raw magnetic bearings and chained distances were recorded on maps. The courses on these maps did not "close" mathematically; however, surveyors used the best methods available for surveying and mapping at that time. The Manual of Surveying Instructions 1973, Section 3-46, states the ratio of error is not to exceed 1:1280. Surveys done in the days before EDMs may be acceptable at 1:5000. The bearings and distances shown on maps are an aid to find the monument. Monuments set 20, 50 or 100 years ago should not be rejected solely based on the use of better technology.

Consistency in the way our services are provided to the public should be the utmost priority. We need to restore the "art" of surveying to gain respect by the public and other surveyors. Setting a "proper" corner involves more than simply setting a bigger monument. Performing a "proper" survey involves evaluating the methods and procedures used on prior surveys and honoring those corners established using correct methods and found within a reasonable ratio of error for the time the survey was done.

Michael Stanton, PLS

San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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