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Letters to the Editor

December 21, 2000
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Letters to the editors for January.

"The Surveyor and the Law"

November 2000

Kudos to Jerry Broadus on his article “The Importance of Easement Descriptions” in the November 2000 issue. I regulate the development community for Gwinnett County, Georgia’s Storm Water Management division and am constantly explaining the importance of proper easement descriptions around storm water management facilities. Gwinnett County does not own these facilities but wishes to protect them and facilitate their maintenance by businesses and homeowner associations alike. Only through clearly describing the easement with a metes and bounds description and a formal Easement Agreement can disputes of the kind described in Jerry’s article be avoided. Thanks for a timely article.

Richard Edinger, P.E.

Gwinnett County, Ga.

“The GPS Observer”

The November 2000 article on vertical control networks by David Zilkoski, contained a short section on the history of U.S. geodetic vertical datums. A better understanding on my part about the history of both CGS and USGS might help to explain a reoccurring problem. For many years I have been curious and frustrated by the lack of information from NGS on many control stations; both vertical and horizontal, that are displayed on both 7.5 minute and 15 minute quads but not found in any data sheets from NGS. Searching both the NGS website and the data sheets on CD frequently will produce disappointing results; that the BM or the triangulation station shown on the quad is not found. Just earlier this week in the field, we recovered the CGS brass disk designated as K-10-1934. It’s in great condition. Why can’t I recover any information on it from NGS?

Is there any public source of information for this lost control and why isn’t it more readily available? If this lost control had been intentionally dropped when one agency absorbed another, and/or not included in any network adjustments over the past 25 years, when can we expect to see this change?

Even if costs prohibit bringing this lost third order control into a current network adjustment, surely those “qualified” earlier values are better than none.

V. Kelly Bellis, PLS

Ellsworth,

Edward J. McKay of NGS Maine, responds:

Surveyor Kelly Bellis is correct in being frustrated about the lack of readily available digital information for many of the older geodetic survey marks around the country. Fortunately, for this U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) bench mark, K-10-1934, information from paper files was provided to Mr. Bellis by both USGS in Rolla, Mo., and the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) in Silver Spring, Md.

The overall problem remains, however, that there are many survey control stations that have not been entered into a digital database so they cannot be easily found by the user community. Most of these marks do not have recent re-observations and did not participate in the latest new datum readjustments at NGS; their positions and/or heights are suspect.

The resources don’t exist to convert these thousands of older control points from paper files to a computer database. Whenever possible, control points residing in the NGS database should be used. Where a survey must use control not in the NGS database, telephone calls or E-mails should be made to various survey control organizations to find the required information. NGS can provide assistance to ensure you have proper control point information prior to beginning your survey.

“Editor’s Note”

October 2000

I recently read your comments on requiring a four-year degree for surveyors. I think this profession is in a lot of trouble, and although I think that requirement may cause some problems, I think it has to be done. This field is high tech, high stress and high liability—with low pay. Good surveyors are becoming scarce, and it seems the only people staying in the field are just doing time. The degree requirement will make the situation worse, but that should drive up salaries, which would then attract people with more of a professional attitude. Although I do not have an accredited degree, I do have a non-accredited associate degree in surveying and a BA in geography. I believe the “accredited” label is a joke. I have met several people from the best surveying school in the country, and they don’t seem to know nearly as much as they should. I like surveying, but I also realize that my opportunities are greater if I combine it with another skill, which is why my education has focused on GIS. There seems to be no future in just being a surveyor.

Robert Boehm

via E-mail

In your October editorial, you stated the need for a four-year college degree based upon recent test statistics on the FLS and PLS exams. However, those test scores and pass rates show how a four-year degree is not required to be a competent surveyor.

The statistics that were cited in your editorial do reflect a significant gap in the success rate between those with ABET degrees and those without, but that is not a reason for change. In reality, this is a clear sign these tests are functioning just as they were intended. These results are showing that these graduates, generally speaking, are more prepared to pass these exams than those who have not had the opportunity to attend an accredited university or college. However, these results also show that a four-year degree is not necessary to pass these exams. According to the statistics on your website, 45.7 percent of those without any college degree passed the principle and practice exam.

To the best of my knowledge, all states have chosen to administer an exam to determine whether applicants are qualified to be registered. If passing these exams is in fact the minimum requirement for licensure, then is the “how” and “where” of our education even a relevant question? It is given that it is difficult to pass these exams without a college background, but should we penalize the men and women who have spent several years in this profession and are more than competent by not allowing them to sit for the exam, simply because they do not have a formal education background? Clearly the answer is no. As long as these exams are the minimum standard for licensure, then they should be allowed to be just that. If someone can pass the exam, then they are competent to be registered. If that is a problem, then it is the tests that need to be evaluated and not the applicants.

I am in no way cheapening the value of a B.S. degree in an accredited surveying curriculum, but if a person is able to learn the fundamentals and technical aspects of surveying through personal study and apprenticeship, then they must be given the opportunity for licensure just as those who have chosen a formal education.

Regardless of our views on this subject, one fact remains constant: every surveyor is self-taught. I would venture to say that there is no one reading your magazine (PLS or LSIT) who has not committed countless hours to personal study, seminars and workshops. Whether you have a B.S. in surveying or not, apprenticeship and on-the-job training are requirements and are completely necessary to achieve minimum competency. To say that you cannot be competent with “informal” education is to contradict the very statistics you have used as evidence.

Brad Wells

Tulsa, Okla.

Although your article made some good points I think you are incorrect with your assessment of the situation. Recently, I was conducting interviews for a crew chief and talked to six graduates from Penn State’s four-year degree program. None of them wanted to work outside and all said they expected at least $30,000 per year. I don't know where you come from, but where I come from that is double what I would start a rodman at. Those individuals have no experience and know nothing about completing a field job. I would never put them in the office without spending many, I stress that word many, hours in the field. They don't know how to do boundary resolution or construction computations. They have never had to think on their feet when something goes terribly wrong, and they expect not to go out on a field crew—and expect top pay? What this system of a four-year degree is doing is creating two classes of surveyors: One who wants to work with GPS and never leave the office but collect big bucks and the other who wants to do the job the right way and is not worried about getting rich.

Anonymous Surveyor

Carlisle, Pa.

I have hesitated to support a four-year degree requirement for license until recently. The Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management implemented a restructuring of most all classified positions that were under the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission. Due to this restructuring the positions of professional land surveyor and land surveyor manager are for the first time since 1921, classified, rated and paid less than their counterparts in engineering. To further drive the nail home, some positions of engineer intern and transportation specialists (unlicensed engineering assistants, inspectors, survey crewman and etc.) are paid at a higher rate or level than professional land surveyors. The requirement to be hired as an engineer intern is a bachelor’s degree in engineering. This language specified in our engineering positions and not in the survey positions results in an erosion in status for all survey positions within public or private sectors. Drive another nail: an Engineer 1 will be compensated $600 to $900 more per month than will a Professional Land Surveyor 1. I see the light! Therefore, when discussing the degree requirement at our upcoming state conference, I for one will be arguing for it. The status of professional land surveyor must be held at the highest level of respect and compensation as it is in responsibility, knowledge and skill.

Gordon Johnson, P.E., P.L.S.

Chief of Surveys, ODOT

If the exam is weeding out those without a degree, why should it be a requirement to take the exam? Let those without a degree take the exam even though there is a statistically greater chance they will fail. The editor’s note shows why you should have a degree, not why you must have a degree.

Al Thelwell, PLS

via E-mail

I am writing in response to the “Editor’s Note” in the October 2000 issue. As you are no doubt well aware, the issue of educational requirements for the PLS exam eligibility ranges in many states where it is still permissible to take the exam based on experience. Such is the case in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am a resident of this state and as of January 2000, am registered and licensed here. I was also among the majority of exam candidates in Pennsylvania granted board approval based solely on experience. A grandfather clause in the current registration law for Pennsylvania allowed me to take the exam with 10 years experience. (A minimum of 25 percent of time being in responsible charge, either in office or field.) The tide, however, is changing. Our representatives (PSLSs) are poised to take a firm stand on the educational side of this coin. The only question I keep asking myself is, “Why?”

You state some rather interesting statistics. But, as we all know, we can make numbers say anything we want. The real issue at hand is not how many are passing or failing the NCEES portion of their respective exams, but the number of people who are actually taking the exam. In many states, the number of examinees has dropped off dramatically. This is what should raise the eyebrows of the powers that be. How has mandatory college education generated interest in the surveying profession? What do the numbers say about how college graduates are in a better position to help the public than the “people who work their way through the ranks to licensure?”

You are correct, however, when you say that education is required to pass the exam. Many of the topics covered require discipline on the part of the examinee to have an understanding on those particular subjects. But, a four-year college degree? Don’t we have at our disposal an abundance of reference material that is designed for that purpose? I fail to see how taking an “Educational Requirements Only” stand is “practical,” as you state. How can a college graduate possibly be better prepared for the life of a professional land surveyor if he has never even held a plumb bob?

Nicholas V. Asaro, PLS

via E-mail

This is in reference to your Editor’s Note regarding college degree requirements for licensure. There are two questions that ought to be kept separate. The first question is whether formal education is the only way to learn the profession. Your article stated your reluctance to make that claim. The other question ought to be whether it is a legitimate function of government and a legitimate use of the force of law to dictate the means by which an applicant for licensure may come by his [or her] education.

If the answer to this question is decided to be “yes,” then a perfectly capable surveyor can be prohibited from practicing his [or her] profession for no other reason than for having obtained his [or her] knowledge and ability by a non-approved means. More importantly, perspective clients would be forbidden from hiring a surveyor they would be satisfied with, simply because the people who write the laws/regulations think they know best. c

Will Aygarn

Norfolk, Va.

The ideas and opinions expressed by our readers do not necessarily reflect those of POB.

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