The establishment of the Fifth Principal Meridian’s “Initial Point” is one of Missouri’s most celebrated land surveying projects. “Except the initial point is actually in the middle of a cypress swamp in Arkansas,” explains Susanne Daniel, PLS, president of the Missouri Society of Professional Surveyors. As the story goes, deputy surveyors Prospect K. Robbins and Joseph C. Brown surveyed north from the mouth of the Arkansas River and west from the mouth of the St. Francis River, respectively. 

“The point of intersection of the two lines was established on November 10, 1815,” Daniel says. “Brown continued west along the base line, while Robbins continued north along the Fifth Principal Meridian Line. This began the survey of the Louisiana Purchase.”

The Bicentennial of the Fifth Principal Meridian Celebration became a major project of the Missouri Society of Professional Surveyors. “As part of the celebration,” Daniel says, “a proper memorial for Joseph C. Brown was dedicated for Brown’s previously unmarked grave site in the Historic Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.” Land surveying in Missouri requires a deference for history and tradition, but there is always more than what meets the eye in the Show Me State.

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What would you say is the majority type of work available to land surveyors in Missouri?

It is difficult to say. If you live and practice in an urban area, there is an abundance of construction-related work. If you live or practice in a more rural area, you will be overwhelmed with boundary work. There is also a niche for those of us that do flood certificates. If you really enjoy a challenge, there are plenty of boundary disputes as we native Ozarkers are as stubborn as our mules.

How has the MSPS developed and grown over the years?

Since I have been a member, I have seen the number of ways a member can participate in committees practically double. I credit our executive director, Sandy Boeckman with our success. We make a suggestion of something we should do and she just makes it happen. If it’s a bad idea, she saves us from ourselves. 

What do you think is affecting the growth of the land surveying profession the most? Lack of awareness? Lack of Education?

I think we are competing with professions and trades that aren’t as difficult to learn or aren’t as physically demanding. And how does one explain that rewarding feeling of recovering an original 1840’s survey stone, saving a century farm from foreclosure or resolving a property line dispute between neighbors then to return years later and find the two parties best friends? It is difficult to sell a career in surveying in the scope of a 15-minute presentation on Career Day so we try to pique interest with our equipment. Unfortunately, once the potential candidate discovers that we spend more time chopping our way through dense multi-floral roses and blackberry briars than flying drones, they lose interest.

What rules or laws are on the books or up for review would you say threaten the survey profession in Missouri? 

We have few issues that we have been dealing with, but, again, the main threat is not enough surveyors. We are already experiencing this and expect that things will get worse. We are reviewing our licensing requirements to determine if our current level of experience is a deterrent for potential candidates. The problem is finding that balance where our experience requirement is sufficient to protect the public without discouraging those wishing to become land surveyors. This has led to some heated debates.

I can only imagine. The surveyors around the country seem to regularly share in this heated debate.  

Another issue that we have had to deal with is exactly who can legally write a boundary description. I’m not sure if this threatens our profession or ensures that we will always have too much work. Until recently, realtors, developers, attorneys, utility companies and title companies were all writing their own property descriptions and creating conflicts. 

ATL notesAliquot descriptions were OK as long as they didn’t involve a fractional section, but metes and bounds descriptions were often based on a tax map or coordinates from “Google Earth” instead of a survey.

Fortunately for our society, several of our members have served or are serving in the Missouri Legislature. We asked one of them to sponsor a bill to limit who could write boundary descriptions. Of course, there are more attorneys serving in the Missouri House than surveyors, and they took exception to the proposed restriction on their practice. They not only wanted to continue writing descriptions without a survey but refused to identify themselves to avoid liability should their descriptions be found faulty. 

If I have the story right, an attorney tried to amend our bill by proposing that attorneys should be allowed to practice land surveying since the Missouri Bar exam included several questions regarding boundary surveying. To get his point across, our Rep. introduced a bill that members of the Missouri Legislature would be allowed to sit for the Missouri Bar exam after serving 2 years as a state representative or senate lawmaker. It was worthy of a chuckle on the evening news, but in the end language was stricken and bills were rescinded. We now sign and seal our property descriptions and certify that our work is based on an actual boundary survey. 

If you are interested in land surveying work or advocating around survey issues in Missouri, what is the best way to get involved?

Join the Missouri Society of Professional Surveyors and come to a workshop or conference. We try to keep our dues and fees reasonable and our topics entertaining as well as informative. We have local chapters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and Joplin, as well as in central and southeast parts of the state. 

Do survey professionals need their license to be involved with the Missouri Society of Professional Surveyors? 

No, we have different types of membership, and we appreciate and encourage involvement. 

Tell me about the Missouri Society of Professional Surveyors’ membership. How has it grown?

We are experiencing a slight but steady decline as our membership ages. Missouri currently has about 800 members. We welcome everyone and don’t really pay attention to ethnicity, but our demographic is largely older white men. Those of us that do not fit that description are overwhelmed with support and encouragement. Our focus is on making sure that we are licensing new surveyors to carry on our work and that we are serving as a forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices so we can better serve our members.