As an associate member of the Land Surveyors Association of Washington (LSAW), I receive the quarterly magazine, Evergreen State Surveyor. The Winter 2012 edition had an interesting article written by the wife of a surveyor. This is the view of someone close, but not within the survey profession.
Author Stephanie Dickson chronicles her husband’s attempts to ascertain the true location of a 16th corner in what is now Tulalip Reservation Lands, but had previously been owned sequentially by a couple of large paper companies.
At what seems to be heroic efforts to run down a long gone 4″X4″ cedar stake which was subsequently replaced by a rebar marker pounded into a tree apparently by a non-licensed surveyor using even at that time long antiquated equipment who used a method of determining what was even back then a “lost corner”, Mrs. Dickson concludes in part:
To be a surveyor is to be willing to dig and pick at a mystery that others would throw their hands up as unsolvable. It’s much more than standing on the side of the road looking through an instrument. More than placing flags in trees. More even than making a legible map. Most of what a surveyor does is behind the scenes … .
But, the question that would then have to be asked is: If a mistaken corner is relied upon to make other surveying decisions until it is finally discovered to be inaccurate, what should be done?
Similar to the law, there is an attempt to harmonize the new with the old. In law this means to conform the predated (“old”) facts with the new law.
In surveying, this would amount to recognizing that becuase of the original misinterpretation, there is occupation on the ground which now does not conform with what is determined to be the true corner.
If this can not be corrected by resurvey standards, one of the most prominent methods of solving this and other types of questions is Adverse Possession. This prevents an error made by a surveyor from haunting him and potentially his or her estate “35 years” or more later.
If this was the case, then the public would have to bear a much more increased cost for not only doing surveys, but also to gain title insurance.
Barring the most heinous crimes, we have statute of limitations in all other areas of law, so the thought of eliminating adverse possession, which is a form of statute of limitations, ought not be considered viable.
Surveyors do an exacting job, but just as every other professional, they are people and can not be expected to always do their job perfectly.
Just like real esate attorneys, the fact that their work is out there in the public domain and might be questioned by someone down the line, generally is more than enough additional incentive to keep them working through mysteries which they don’t want to later have come back to haunt them.