Guest Column: Making Sure We've Got It Just Right
A Professional Surveyor’s never-ending challenge to make sure the job's done correctly
In a recent evidence-collecting adventure, I came across a plat of the property adjacent to the one I was surveying. I was amazed at the detail, precision of all measurements and the overall “look” of the plat. It was signed by a local surveyor and met all minimum standards set forth by the state board. I quickly gathered all of my client’s legal descriptions, maps of adjacent federal lands, federal interstate right-of-way maps and the wonderful plat created by my peer, and hauled it back to the office.
Our task was to evaluate all associated findings and show any deed overlaps. I was tickled that I had so much recorded evidence and that, at this pace, I would be finished by lunch.
Not so fast, here comes Murphy…
I sent my A-team crew out to the site to tie our boundary into the recovered adjacent plat. I wanted to have as much field evidence as I had recorded evidence. To make this easier on the crew, I calculated approximate locations of the adjacent corners by simply overlaying the line work (of this stellar survey) onto our found data. This common data happened to be three iron pipes and one concrete right-of-way marker. For the record, we had surveyed the same parcel for the same client six years earlier and recovered the same evidence that was found and shown now on this adjacent plat. While compiling the data on this masterpiece, I started missing found monuments.
Scratching my head, I pushed on and completed a base map for my crew, and off they went. This task should have taken two hours tops. It was less than 1.5 miles from the office and didn’t have a visual obstruction anywhere. Five hours and 10 phone calls later, the guys returned frustrated. “We couldn’t find anything to start the survey,” said my party chief of more than 15 years. “We shot in five (of the neighboring surveyor’s) pins and nothing matched.” Trusting that something was wrong on our end, I immediately interrogated the crew, throwing every one of them under the bus because there is absolutely no way that a document as beautiful and precise as the neighboring plat could ever be inaccurate. Really?
We downloaded our points and placed our client’s deed on the original, six-yearold evidence. I then added the adjacent parties’ line work to our map. Wow! The adjacent survey called to a 2-inch pipe as the POB, but the surveyor had placed his plat on a 1-inch pipe found some 6 feet east of the 2-inch POB.
We went to the next point. The guy actually shows a half-inch rebar found on the plat, but set another half-inch rebar 1.2 feet away and, guess what, his line work missed both of them. I then moved his line work to another found iron to see if I could get a better average fit. That didn’t work either. We could not get the guy’s set irons to match the plat. So, I decided I needed to go have a conversation with my peer.
After tracking him down, I proceeded to explain my quandary. He was immediately defensive and explained his place in the world as my senior. He is 13 years older than me, and I have been doing this 30 years. Not getting anywhere, I bid him farewell and went back to my office. I ended up creating a very detailed map showing all of these anomalies, as well as the deed overlap that originally caused this mess.
Why This is Important
So, why did I tell this story?
In 2013, I was put on one-year probation for minimum standards non-compliance by the Mississippi Board of Registration. This tightened me up, and our in house procedures changed. This non-compliance was embarrassing, but still says nothing for the accuracy of the survey on the ground and rather only that the paper copy must meet valuable standards. It has become more evident lately that our governing boards are doing their part in keeping precision and compliance in our plats. Our state board allows anonymous submittal of plats not meeting standards, but reporting loose surveying practices is almost impossible. The question becomes: How do we police ourselves and our peers?
We are in the age where little of the field work is done by the professional surveyor. A competent crew is compiled, given the best equipment money can buy and sent to the field. We give them scads of data, computers, remote access to the office, GPS, four-wheelers, robots, and anything else they may need. One problem, though: We cannot give them the desire to set an iron pin on a creek bank or paint a line across a swamp, even though the field notes may say “set ½” rod” or “line painted.” We then get this data in our hands and turn out these masterpieces hoping that our next plat wins an award at the annual surveyors’ convention. We are going solely on the word of our employees.
I do “drive-bys” to see flagged lines, set pins, painted lines, etc., so I can defend my survey if needed. What I cannot testify to is whether that survey is truly accurate. True, I have raw data files to review that will reveal a bad backsight, etc., but there is nothing that says the rodman drove the pin exactly where it should be. “After all, it’s in a swamp in southwest Mississippi. Who is ever gonna come back here?”
The bottom line is that we as professionals have to train our employees (and ourselves) to do good work. Through equipment calibration, accuracy thresholds and continuing education, we can try to insure that surveys are completed and that field procedures cause the monuments to match the represented data on the plat.
And, by the way, my more experienced peer ended up claiming that “someone had moved his pins.”