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Here I am pondering the September 2013 POB publication. The Editor’s Desk has delivered yet, another eloquent letter about robotics and aerial mapping. Of course cameras have been around for a (long) while and you can certainly strap them to any manned or unmanned vehicle (UAS) and get some good results, photos, images, and information pleasing to the eye. The technology is here to stay, but doesn’t mean much. UAS is simply robotics.  To determine our future we must ask: Is the use of the UAS a portal for a remote expert (like a plumber), or is the robot system the “expert”?  Does liability lie with the human operator if it issues the correct command, but the autonomous software carries it out poorly? Surveying is both an art and a science. The art of surveying is what I love and continues to draw me to surveying.  Decisions are not made by the robot. The robot may do some slave work and is purely science. Leave flying to pilots, the intrigued, and the novice. For the professional surveyor we must use our skills wisely with great thought, seeking the solutions through preponderance of evidence, mathematics, history, and the art of mapping.  In the future I would hope the POB gains an understanding of the art of surveying and not just the science.

 Plus à faire – More to be done.

 Dale L Hult, PLS, Sandy, Ore.



The current policy for surveying in NYC is leading to the destabilization of the positions of boundaries in Manhattan. This policy creates a severe problem that is unprecedented. This problem is caused by the use and reliance upon a new system for determining property lines.

A paraphrased interpretation of the laws regarding original survey. Land ownership has existed in Manhattan since 1626. At one point in time, prior to street dedication, Manhattan was comprised of large tracks of land that were individually owned. Consistent with constitutional and state law, owners legally subdivided their land by surveys and created blocks and lots within their boundaries. In doing so, the original surveyors created the boundaries within the limits of their parcels. Development at that time continued to about Houston Street.

Recently a Museum Exhibit of "The Greatest Grid" was displayed for the public. It displayed surveys by the city-appointed surveyor, John Randel Jr. Most of his survey work (1806 -1811) was in areas above Houston Street that were never developed. His work concerned the establishment of monument points set “on the ground” that represented the placement of future roads and primary intersections for most of Manhattan. Those monuments that Randel set established the positions of and the basis for the original layout of the primary control lines and property lines of the individual subdivisions, later referred to as blocks. The monuments fell indiscriminately within large tracts of land that were individually owned. Surveyors followed Randel's control monumentation and then created the original boundary lines of each individual block where none existed before.

The intersections of the original subdivisions were set by surveys and used in conveyance. The position of every lot in the subdivision is directly related to those set intersection points. Once those boundaries were created, accepted and then conveyed, there is no possible error in position. It would not matter if the corner was set imprecisely or incorrectly in a position other than what was intended or if the original surveyor wanted to change something shortly after. By the described actions, property lines were created and their positions are correct. The highest court has confirmed that the original positions of property lines must remain fixed and immutable. Regardless of any intentions, mistakes or limitations, once legally set as described, no landowner, surveyor, court or municipality has the power or the authority to adjust, correct or modify the positions of those lines. (A great deal of information is available for further study and clarification. A good example is "Browns Boundary Control and Legal Principals," fourth edition, chapter 2. )

Retracement Surveys.  The courts were well aware of the lack of precision and limited capabilities of that time. Surveyors were typically self-taught. The training, basic equipment and instrumentation was grossly inferior to what was available a century later. Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln were all surveyors. Any further surveys in the same area are referred to as "Retracement Surveys," whereby the retracing surveyor must research the essential evidence and "follow in the footsteps of the original surveyor." I believe that this principal is an axiomatic imperative for all future surveys.  Every effort must be made to investigate the pertinent historical evidence and correctly recreate the positions of the original controlling intersections that were set by the original surveyor. Emphasizing that point, time and effort is of no consideration.

This lack of precision does not change the accuracy of the original surveys conducted. It was assumed that prospective owners could walk the property, see the intersection points that were set and purchase the property in an "as is" condition.

As a result, the actual dimensions of the original layout of the blocks vary with respect to the precision capabilities of modern times. Based upon the above described best capabilities of that time, deviations from intended mathematical perfection is a certainty.  

A candid look at the WPA public work project.  More than a century after Randel's survey, in the 1930s, after hundreds of thousands of property lines were established and used for development, a massive public work project, the WPA , was initiated. They performed a precisely engineered first order survey and set monuments along long perfectly straight lines, exact angles and extremely uniform distances for nearly all of Manhattan.

It was a noble undertaking. It employed more than 500 individuals for two years. Physical monuments were set. Borough survey maps and traverse maps were created. These primary maps provide the documentation that describes the mathematical positions of the monumentation and their relationships to the block. In addition, secondary maps, referred to as section maps were derived from the primary maps. These three maps were created as a result of the efforts of this public work.

The WPA Monumentation Survey was led by individuals who lacked experience in this locale. Not a single NYC City Surveyor was included in the work force. The management was unaware of the essential parameters and unique complexities of surveying in Manhattan. They did not know where boundaries had been established or how to determine those positions. The city had evolved and exact placement of original intersections was no longer recognizable. The management ignored crucial evidence of legally established fact, including prior surveys, surveyor agreements and lines of possession. Rather than admit to their limitations, they ignored them. They created, coordinated and monumented a completely new and arbitrary system. They may have thought that they were permitted to correct mistakes made by Randel and others or ignore their work completely. They were not. Despite being precisely engineered, they were not legally accurate.  

That new system, resulting from the WPA project, was proven to be in error and in conflict with the accepted positions of ownership. Title companies proved that its use would disrupt the positions of property lines throughout the city and cause tens of thousands of lawsuits. The new system was rejected. The primary maps that were created by this project were rejected and a clear warning against their use was set upon them. The warning, in essence states that they were not city maps and that they should not be used for any purpose.   

This is a perfect example of precise but not accurate. The machine that provides exact measurements and perfect layout is no substitute for the professional that makes a determination based upon law, measurement and morality. It is not the wand. It is the magician.

I am aware of these ancient but crucial facts because of the frequent conversations I have had with my father and my grandfather regarding what was done and how it was done. It was a fantastic example for them. To the best of my knowledge and belief, I feel certain that all of the information that I am providing is accurate because of the sources, a preponderance of evidence confirming these facts, and my frequent use and review of field notes from a great many different sources.

Need for action. I believe that it is now essential for the city to take immediate responsible action. They need to understand the problem exists.  

It is my hope that you will see this problem and the need to correct it as I do. We need an outpouring of commonsense and wisdom. It is essential that we get this message across. I need help!  I ask each of you to send me a fact that is a good representation of this concern. It may help to motivate the politicians to act appropriately.  

Details about this pending crisis that is being ignored by the current administration can be viewed now at the CRISIS section of the Harwood Surveying P.C. website http://www.harwoodsurveying.com/crisisinthemaking.html. I can be reached at my private email at nyc.crisis.concerns@gmail.com

Andrew M. Harwood, PLS, New York


Online comments

POB’s article on the benefits of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the January 2014 issue drew this response on pobonline.com.


The biggest push in the UAV market is versatility, making UAV’s capable of all applications, and environments, all from a single platform.

Marcus UAV