Caroli­nas plot do-over with du­el­ing sur­veys

GPS could change 1730s map

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY DANIEL JACK­SON

Judy Helms con­sid­ers her­self a South Carolinian. For years, the state of South Carolina agreed. But a new sur­vey of the North Carolina-south Carolina bor­der, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the lat­est map­ping tech­nol­ogy, may soon turn Ms. Helms into a Tarheel.

“I felt like I was stepped on,” she said, re­call­ing her re­sponse to a let­ter she re­ceived a few months ago telling the long­time res­i­dent of Clover, S.C., in the state’s York County that her house might be in North Carolina’s Gas­ton County.

Ms. Helms is one of dozens of home­own­ers, renters and busi­nesses lo­cated along the bor­der be­tween the states fac­ing the prospect of be­ing re­clas­si­fied South Carolinian or North Carolinian as the two states wrap up a $1 mil­lion remap­ping project that be­gan in the mid-1990s.

The project brought the tech­nol­ogy of mod­ern sur­vey­ing — GPS, dig­i­tal lev­els and in­frared sights that mea­sure dis­tances in­stantly and with pre­ci­sion — to bear on a bor­der de­ter­mined in the 1730s by sur­vey­ors us­ing com­passes and sex­tants and mark­ing the line on trees and the oc­ca­sional stone marker.

It was the same for borders across the coun­try. Early maps were of­ten in­ac­cu­rate or con­tra­dic­tory, and sur­vey­ors blazed their lines on trees, rocks and other land­marks that in many cases have dis­ap­peared or shifted with the con­struc­tion of roads, homes and other de­vel­op­ment.

With the trees and other land­marks gone and orig­i­nal stone mark­ers of­ten buried or miss­ing, de­ter­min­ing the ex­act lo­ca­tion of the bor­der has be­came a guess­ing game for res­i­dents and of­fi­cials alike.

Iowa and Mis­souri fought the tense but blood­less “Honey War” in the 1840s be­fore agree­ing on a bor­der. The war was so named be­cause tax col­lec­tors from Mis­souri chopped down three bee trees filled with honey on dis­puted land as rev­enue be­fore they were chased away by pitch­fork-wield­ing Iowans.

“I can al­most safely say that very few state borders are where they should be,” said Bart Crat­tie, a Chat­tanooga, Tenn., sur­veyor who sits on the board of the Sur­vey­ors His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Even many Western states, with their seem­ingly straight-line borders, have jogs and squig­gles to ac­com­mo­date lo­cal fea­tures at the ground level.

The project of re-es­tab­lish­ing the Carolina bor­der is un­der­stand­ably stress­ful for res­i­dents like Ms. Helms.

A new bor­der could af­fect where Ms. Helms and her neigh­bors vote, their tax rates, their school dis­tricts and their driver’s li­censes. States want a sharply de­fined bor­der so they can de­cide where to pros­e­cute crimes, where to start and stop road main­te­nance and how to al­lo­cate ser­vices.

The Caroli­nas moved to clar­ify their bor­der when sur­vey­ors started to come to them in the 1990s ask­ing where the ex­act line was. They couldn’t tell them. So the two states es­tab­lished a joint boundary com­mis­sion in 1994.

They started dig­ging through the archives, look­ing for ev­i­dence of the bor­der. “Over time, the ev­i­dence of the state boundary dis­ap­peared,” said North Carolina Ge­o­detic Sur­vey chief Gary Thompson.

The coun­ties, when they needed to par­cel out land, would use the best in­for­ma­tion that they had. Mr. Thompson said lo­cal of­fi­cials also used in­di­ca­tions such as the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey’s topo­log­i­cal maps and road signs.

The re­searchers went back into the li­braries look­ing for old deeds and maps and were able to piece to­gether the state bor­der.

Af­ter 17 years, the ef­fort is wind­ing to a close.

The ef­fects of the re­align­ment have left some peo­ple un­happy. Ms. Helms dis­cov­ered that the line runs through the mid­dle of her house. Her pa­tio is in South Carolina while her garage is in North Carolina. Her house is on one of 93 parcels of land af­fected by the shift.

“I don’t want to get in a law­suit about it,” she said, but “I know a lot of peo­ple will press this.”

Sid Miller, co-chair­man of the Joint Boundary Com­mis­sion, said, “We’re both very sen­si­tive to it. It’s not their fault.”

He said that a leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion is in the works.

The sit­u­a­tion on the bor­der is un­cer­tain. Home­own­ers wait as the Joint Boundary Com­mis­sion col­lects their con­cerns for their next meet­ing on March 21.

Mr. Miller stressed that the two states are not fight­ing. It’s “ab­so­lutely not the case.”

But some­times, the search for clar­ity along the bor­der be­comes heated for neigh­bor­ing states. De­ci­sions and sur­vey­ing er­rors made cen­turies ago can have very real con­se­quences to­day.

In 2008, Mr. Crat­tie, who lives on Look­out Moun­tain over­look­ing Chat­tanooga, Tenn., pub­lished some of his re­search in the At­lanta Jour­nal-con­sti­tu­tion con­clud­ing that the orig­i­nal state line for Ten­nessee and Ge­or­gia was in­tended to be about a mile far­ther north than it is to­day — a map­ping mis­take caused by a faulty sur­vey that ended up be­com­ing the bor­der.

Fix­ing that mis­take would give Greater At­lanta, strug­gling with a se­vere water short­age, ac­cess to the Ten­nessee River.

State lead­ers in Ge­or­gia im­me­di­ately called for “cor­rect­ing” the line, but Ten­nessee of­fi­cials have ig­nored the re­quest.

“Now [Ge­or­gia] re­al­izes that it’s not pos­si­ble. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen,” Mr. Crat­tie said.

Once two states agree on a bor­der, that’s the bor­der, re­gard­less of how ac­cu­rate the sur­veyor is. “The orig­i­nal mon­u­ment has no er­ror, no mat­ter how wrong it is,” Mr. Crat­tie said.

If Ge­or­gia of­fi­cials want to press the mat­ter, the Found­ing Fa­thers have sug­gested the path for­ward. The Con­sti­tu­tion gives the Supreme Court au­thor­ity to ar­bi­trate state boundary dis­putes.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A so­lar flare Tues­day evening pro­vided a spec­tac­u­lar as­tro­nom­i­cal scene but threat­ened to dis­rupt power grids, GPS and air­plane flights as it reached Earth late Wed­nes­day. Fore­cast­ers at the Space Weather Pre­dic­tion Cen­ter said the flare was the largest in five years.

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