Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The importance of the Land Surveyor to get involved in the Community

The role of the Land Surveyor in our communities is a key and vital role.  I have learned over the years that the role of a land surveyor in a community can be a key component for advising local officials in making key planning and regulation decisions.  Often times we as surveyors tend to focus on our own niches and not look to our overall impact.  Our community leadership often times make decisions based on information but not the whole picture.  The Land Surveyor can shed light on these impacts and decision processes.  We deal in a realm of bridging the gap between land tenure and land regulations.  Yet we may be good at satisfying the needs of our clients we also tend to drop the ball in getting involved in the regulation process.  Often towns and counties enact policies that on their face seem to answer an immediate need to regulate but they do little in the way of looking at the big picture consequences.  This is where the land surveyor can bring information to the table and influence these processes.  However as a profession we fail to get involved and find ourselves reacting to new rules and ordinances that only serve to make our client’s land tenure more difficult.  Personally I serve and have served on planning and zoning commissions and city governance.  In these positions I have had the opportunity to advise these governing bodies with advice and information that was beneficial to the average land owner.  Also it is a great way to become familiar with the process and how to best work within it.  If our profession would focus more on advising our clients on how to best utilize their land to their benefit and not just measure what we are told to we would all be better off.

Surveying is Local

The practice of surveying is a local practice.  It takes years of working in a particular area to become familiar with the local nuance of working there.  This is easy in a small local environment and can become difficult in the broader sense.  I have long held the belief that those who practice everywhere learn little or nothing about this principal.  These firms often times do not know the local pitfalls and ultimately enter into surveying contracts blind.  Sometimes there is a payoff and most times there is not.  A local land surveyor intimate with an area is more valuable to those whom live in that area than those whom aren’t.  Especially when it comes to dealing with local officials.  Regional issues and concerns play a large part in understanding local rules and regulations.

The Good of the Profession

I have been reading up on some of the writings of Curt Brown.  It is not hard to notice that this man was ahead of his time.  Many of the issues he wrote about in the 60’s are the same issues we face today.  The future of the profession.  Education of the profession.  Promoting the profession.  Yet our profession whose practice is steeped in tradition is slow to embrace some of these principals.  As the technology of measurement is advancing our view of our profession moves at a much slower pace.  I attribute this as an attitude of hanging on to historical practices and habits.  However the professionals whom grasp technology and apply these habits tend to be more successful.  However old traditions die hard.  As we are seeing today the paradigm of the survey crew and para-professional technicians is also changing.  Technology has destroyed the hierarchy of the survey crew and apprenticeship.  Where in the past a technician would learn and work their way up the structure to become a party chief and possible a registrant.  Now we have one-man GPS crews whose support and training come from instructions in the office.  In today’s environment the apprenticeship doctrine that many of us learned under is now failing.  Many of these technicians are not being properly trained to evaluate evidence or what and how to measure.  They collect data and turn in a coordinate file.  This is not apprenticeship.  This is not training.  This is technical training that serves an immediate need but does little to instill meaning full education.  The idea of allowing education in boundary surveying to start after the license is issued is a serious misstep and is currently hurting our profession.  What every surveyor needs to understand is that not all surveying is a professional practice.  Most aspects of surveying are merely technical practices of engineering.  Boundary surveying is the only true professional practice because it is the only practice where the science of measurement may be in direct conflict with the principals and doctrines of possessory rights and interests.  This is where the professional decision is made.  We as a profession must embrace the idea that not all surveying is professional.  Therefore not all aspects of surveying can be regulated by the State in a broad brush set of rules and regulations.  In fact I would argue that regional bias also makes boundary surveying hard to regulate in a broad brush approach also.

Technical Standards versus Standard of Care

Arizona is indicative of many states that pursue the regulation of surveying through technical standards.  Technical standards serve a purpose but they do not answer the hard questions faced by those who make boundary determinations.  Those who believe the contrary are more focused on the technical aspects while deficient in the professional aspect of the decision making process based on evidence evaluation.  The principal of Standard of Care addresses the regional bias and influences the decision making process by comparing what the professional decision making process of those practicing in a given area would do.  Again surveying is local; and the standard of care principal is why.  The playing field cannot be leveled by an encompassing technical standard because local or regional bias maybe in direct conflict with these.  The professional should and must have the latitude to make decisions without being hamstrung by a conflicting technical standard.  Where the technical standard must be deviated from; the professional surveyor must be able to offer an intelligent and fact based reasoning for this deviation.  Violating possessory rights or interests for the sake of following a technical standard cannot be tolerated.

APLS should set the Standard of Care

If APLS would assume the role of defining the standard of care then the state would not need technical standards.  However we tend to want to hide from each other instead of talking to each other.  We as an association and a profession must embrace the idea we are colleagues and not competitors.  Colleagues can compete for contracts and engagements without creating an adversarial posture.  Surveyor on surveyor crime is a shameful practice.  We should educate each other through communication not use the BTR to rid ourselves of competition.  The competition will always be there.  We must embrace the idea of open and honest collaboration and not set traps for those whom try to follow in our footsteps.  Nothing we do is a trade secret nor is it proprietary.  We deal in realm of trying to serve the public’s interests not our own.  This is where APLS needs to reach out to nonmembers and nonparticipating members.  We can become better by learning from each other.  We can succeed together or wither and die individually.  I choose unity.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Did that Just Happen....

The Story....

Back in 2012 a surveyor was approached by a land owner whom possessed 8 lots (4 on each side of a street) in an undeveloped subdivision that had been approved and adopted by a local municipality.  The streets were dedicated to the town but not built.  The land owner had the idea of asking the town to revert the lots to acreage and abandon that portion of roadway that separated his lots.

The subdivision was monumented and platted in 1987, and amended in 1989.  Non of the infrastructure was built or placed.  the ADRE stepped in and halted the marketing/selling of lots for multiple reasons.  Therefore by the time 2012 cam around the subdivision existed in fact but was no longer feasible.

In 2007 a group of investors bought the subdivision and in that sale non of the previous conveyances were excepted or recognized.  A lawsuit ensued.  The land owner asking for the reversion had his claim of title supported and proved up by the County Superior Court.  So his ownership was not in question.  However the investors are currently in court trying to get their possessory rights proved up.

In 2012 the landowner petitioned the town and had a plat prepared reverting the lots to acreage and vacating/abandoning the street adjacent to his lots.  By resolution the town agreed and signed the plat and it was good.  That portion of the subdivision was reverted and the street dedication was recended.

In 2015 the investors decided that the town had violated its subdivision rules and filed a lawsuit against the town because of the reversion claiming to be damaged because the subdivision plat had been changed.  After consulting with attorneys the town made the decision to recend its resolution and undo the street abandonment and lot reversion; without the consent of landowner.  So by resolution they did.  So the town thinks that it will go through the process of posting the property and follow their rules and in 30 days redo what they have undone.

The Questions...

1.  Does the resolution undoing the street abandonment constitute an unauthorized "taking" by the Town?

2.  Does a violation of town code justify the violation of a citizens constitutional protection from illegal search and seizure?

3.  Does this action by the city council put them in violation of their oath of office for not defending the Constitution of the United States?


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Changing Face of Land Surveying

Has anyone else noticed that the dynamic of the typical survey operation has changed?  I have operated as a one-man shop for the last 10 years and have found the hard work liberating.  Primarily because it has given me the latitude to stay flexible in a hostile economy.  The other reason is I do not have to rely on a technician to collect data for me.  Don't get me wrong; I working in an engineering firm with lots of crews and I was their manager.  However to be honest I really had no idea what they were doing or how well they weren't doing it.  I did catch one party chief: while working in Kansas; sitting in the truck playing on his playstation and small TV while his crew was in the snow staking power poles.  On another occasion I was asked to fire a young man who apparently could not keep his urine clean.  My point is this type of stuff was daily.  I was spending hours managing people and clients and very little time supervising the data.  It was impossible.

What I see now is more RLS partychiefs and one-man crews.  Plus more and more one-man operations.  Even the engineering firms have realized that it is more cost effective to sub-contract their surveying tasks rather than maintain survey operations in house.  I think this is a positive move.  It will be uncomfortable but it is in the right direction.  With the RLS being more hands on; there is better decision making in the field.  An added bonus of course is the experience.

I am hoping this progression will calm the competitive nature and begin to embrace a cooperative nature.  We should act as colleagues not enemies.  Its hard but it is possible.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It has Been Awhile...

If anyone out there has actually bothered to follow my posting you'd notice right off I got a little inconsistent.  Well lets just say that 2015 has not been a banner year for me.  It started really badly.  Then in May I was medevac'd to Flagstaff for an emergency surgery that basically gutted me like a fish.  Spent all of July recovering and finally got to get to work in August full speed.  Without going into a lot of detail; take care of your gastro-intestinal health.  Long story short; I lost June and July.  August picked up and September October have been the best in years.  Enough catch up here is the meat of the post.

2 weeks ago an attorney here in the White Mountains called me.  He was in a bind.  A colleague had been hired to do an ALTA survey in a nearby town.  the week of delivery he backed out.  Attorney calls and says can you do it?  What will charge and how much to expedite?  Game on...  So I do my homework and go to the field.

In this particular community there is a guy whom is not licensed but finds RLS's to seal his work.  We all know him and we know the RLS numbers he uses.  Well, adjacent to the property I am surveying I find yellow plastic caps with the RLS typical of the rubber stamp activity.  No Record of Survey on file at the court house and no rhyme or reason to there placement.  So I track down the name behind the number and contact him.  When I call him he is surprised that I had found his caps.  He had no record of any of the technician's work in the area.  Caught way off guard he asks me to see my data and he'd get back to me.  24 hours later he does and admits he's got a real problem.  Now at this point I am thinking I can serve him up to the BTR.  However I decide to help him.  So I meet with the landowners and explain why the monuments are no good.  The RLS agrees and askes me to pull them.  I let him know that the only way to make it right is to redo the survey he didn't do and correct the monuments and file a Record of Survey.  He asks me if I would do the field work for him and I agreed.  So I move his monuments with the consent of the land owners.  He prepares a plat and records it and I finish my ALTA with no encumbrances.  So here is the takeaway from all this:
1.  If you are rubber stamping for a guy in a different part of the state; you have know way of knowing how many quicky surveys he's doing for cash with your caps.
2.  the monuments are there and whether or not the RLS knew about them doesn't matter because he is still responsible for them.
3.  Never should a registrant give his caps to somebody to use; especially when the guy the RLS is stamping for can't be trusted.
4.  Collaboration between professionals can reach a consensus that benefits the landowners and fixes the erroneous survey.

This could have been really bad.  So a word to the wise.  Rubbers tamping for someone acting as a para-professional is a big mistake and should never happen.  The offending technician will walk.  However one of the parties involved was a relative and was not happy to hear that family had done him that way.  Its a small world.  Especially here in the Hinterlands.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

More on Standard of Care versus Minimum Standards

Life is funny.  I had no sooner certified the vote the APLS membership took on our recommended changes to the existing Minimum Standards; when I got home my inbox was full of correspondence from NM surveyors talking about their minimum standards.

Personally however you may feel about ours take a look at the level of detail that are in NM's.  They go to great strides to define everything under the sun specifically.  So recently I have been involved in discussions relating to Standard of Care.
Arizona sort of addresses Standard of Care this way:

R4-30-301 A.A.C. 6. A registrant shall apply the technical knowledge and skill that would be applied by other qualified registrants who practice the same profession in the same area and at the same time.

However the statement "in the same area" seems to undo the intent of this paragraph.  Reason being that if a group of surveyors all trained the same way all be it incorrectly could in fact set the bar for the entire profession in that area no matter how horrific.  However that is a double edged sword.  Because if one of these guys come to an area where the Standard of Care set by the Locals is a lot higher then they can be subject BTR action.

The BTR is not real quick to use this tool and that is a real shame.  because it is a heavey hammer to swing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Using Geographic Measurement Management

Last night I had the opportunity to sit down with the Saguaro Chapter of APLS.  I was asked to give a practical presentation on the use of Geographic Measurement Management (GMM) this is a free software available at


If other chapters or groups are interested in having me do a tutorial let me know.  I honestly beleive this software is the best for calculating and refining search areas for PLSS monumentation.

So here are the links for the downloads.  I have the data files for Arizona and New Mexico but collectively these files are almost 5 GIG.  I need to figure out where I can host the data files.  I am thinking the APLS website.  Don't know yet.  Stay tuned.

Monday, April 20, 2015

More than measurements

Today was supposed to be a quiet day.  I had a couple of little jobs that needed me to come by and visit.  The first one was rather simple.  Found the corners verified them with the other control and flagged them up for a fence.

Then a client sends me this.....

So then pull this ROS....
 And Compare it to this Deed.....
Conclusion.  The County has no idea what they are talking about.  Does this happen anywhere else?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Utilities With out Easements in a Recorded Subdivision...

Here in the hinterlands we don't get much subdivision work.  However when we do it is like christmas.  I am in the process of taking large green belt tracts in a subdivision and amending the exiting lots to encompass the area.  It has been eye opening to see the number of reviews and meeting requested by the municipality about this.  You would think with all the scrutiny that is being laid upon this type of activity little things like making sure the original developer proved easements for sanitary and storm sewer systems that seem to randomly go from here to there with total disregard for the lot layout.  Or vice versa.

So here is the situation:
1.  drainage study shows an active drainage system running through lots to an impound area.
2.  utility plan shows sanitary sewer lines cutting through lots to shorten pipe lengths
3.  drainage study and utility plan approved by town.
4.  final plat is signed and dedications of utilities and roads are accepted by town.
5.  NO ASBUILTS EXIST of utility or sewer systems
6.  I am currently asbuilting what I can find.
7.  developer #2 buys subdivision and is re-modelling it and amending it again.

At some point I know these systems have to be accounted for.  However what I don't know is if My client developer #2 has recourse via a title claim.  Since the dedications makes the systems a matter of record.  However the dedication also states "as shown hereon".  Stay tuned..........

Monday, March 2, 2015

It has been awhile

 Here are some updates:

On the APLS front - The revisions to the minimum standards were adopted by APLS by a vote of the membership.  The Tally was 86 in favor and 50 against.  With almost 520 members this is one of the best turn outs for a vote.  With the Governor's moratorium on rule making in place APLS will have to just sit on them until the BTR can act on them. The BOD is discussing ways to encourage membership.  One that I like was bringing back the 1 year of free membership to new licensees.  I am not sure why it was halted but I guess economics had something to do with it.  However we will see what the BOD wants to do.

As 2015 takes off lets take a moment to look back at 2013-2014.  I was asked what have we done?  Well so fare since 2010 (in the last 5 years) APLS has adopted a policy of Continuing Education that is suitable to bring to the BTR.  It has been rejected by the BTR; but that doesn't mean it can't be re-introduced.  We have adopted a revision to the ABSMS that we can/will introduce to the BTR as soon as the opportunity arises.  This represents quite a log jam at the BTR so we shall see how this all plays out.

The next step is the entry standards.  The BTR is looking at an omnibus bill to bring the surveying experience/education requirements in line with the engineers.  APLS has been asked to look at and make recommendations.  So that is what we are doing.  Our relationship wit the BTR is an open one and that is good thing.  I just hope it can continue.

All that being said we can all relax and enjoy the busy field season we hope to have.