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A new look at a Texas Land Surveyor?

Image courtesy Charles F.H. Blucher Family Papers, Special Collections & Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas.
Image courtesy Charles F.H. Blucher Family Papers, Special Collections & Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas.

After a century of qualifying land surveyors through examination and the regulation thereof, the future of the Texas land surveyor is at the precipice of a major change.  The Texas Sunset Commission, made up of state legislators and public members, made the decision not to renew the licensing agency in January 2019, but instead place its duties under the authority of the Texas Board of Professional Engineers.  From a conservative point of view about regulation within our government, this does not seem to be a big issue.  However, one would have to understand the historical context of the land tenure system of the State of Texas under the "Six Flags" of sovereignty that ruled Texas and that it is an unique understanding of case and statutory law, rather than an instruction manual, that makes a land surveyor separate from a geomatic engineer.

The common north corner of Crane and Ward Counties, Texas.
The common north corner of Crane and Ward Counties, Texas.

Over the last 100 years, Texas land surveyors have evolved to not only just be able to utilize tools by adapting the latest technology to collect field data but to properly assess that data using education and experience.  Today, Texas land surveyors are required to have a formal education that exploits their ability to recall court decisions that affect the location of boundaries that have been lost either by time or gross error.  Nearing the experts of land law, today's land surveyor is at a common ground with attorneys when called upon to defend the record of the land in courts.

Students learning the proper way to use a transit to gather field data in a land surveying course.
Students learning the proper way to use a transit to gather field data in a land surveying course.

Over the last several years, engineering programs around the country have dropped teaching land surveying courses and civil engineering labs have shortened surveying equipment education to a minimum.  State agencies realize the need for higher education to qualify candidates to protect the public's welfare.  Therefore, some universities created educational programs offering the required courses in land surveying outside the engineering programs to accommodate this need since the engineering programs have abandoned land surveying education.

The Sunset Commission related their decision to create a combined board of engineers and land surveyors comes from that nearly half of the other states in the United States have a combined board.  The problem with this line of thinking is that these states are from the Public Land Survey Systems which uses a manual of instruction published by the United States Bureau of Land Management (U.S. BLM).  As mentioned previously, Texas Land Survey System comes from the sovereign governments of Spain, Mexico, Republic of Texas, and the State of Texas.  Texas Land Survey System uses case and statutory law for retracement construction of boundaries.  With no sovereign Federal lands within the State of Texas, the standard instruction for surveyors is not used.

The current board is made up of two boards; the Texas Registered Professional Land Surveying (RPLS) and Texas Licensed State Land Surveying (LSLS).  The RPLS provides land surveying services to the public while the LSLS provides land surveying services for the Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, like the cadastral surveyor for the U.S. BLM.  The Sunset Commission is recommending that this new merged board include only one land surveyor member to represent decisions relating to land surveying issues.

U.S. BLM monument establishing the northern boundary of Texas appoximately 2 miles south of its proper location in 2009.
U.S. BLM monument establishing the northern boundary of Texas appoximately 2 miles south of its proper location in 2009.

Now knowing the complexity of land surveying in Texas, one can see that a stand-alone agency for land surveying is the only way to protect the public and the sovereign lands of the State of Texas.  Texas lands are a part of why Texas is a unique state of the United States of America.  The last front to protect the record of the land comes from duly qualified land surveyors experienced in the Texas Land Survey System.  The one surveyor cannot justly qualify or regulate land surveying and neither can the remaining five engineers on this new board.

It was land surveyors who first stood to defend the border of Texas along the Red River when the Federal government incorrectly surveyed the boundaries placing the titles of thousands of acres of Texas land owners in question.  Without an agency that has members from both the RPLS and LSLS available to duly qualify and regulate their respective professions, this incident may have had a different outcome.

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So what is the next phase for the Texas land surveyor?  I will be discussing this in the next few blog posts from the Edge of the World: adventures in cadastre!

2 Replies to “A new look at a Texas Land Surveyor?

  1. Davey,
    Thanks for that – now how will the future go.?
    While I am a great proponent of using the Texas Coordinate System, using that linked to land descriptions of both field notes and plats, I see that being used in preference to monument action. That certainly is how Engineers approach it. Slapping on an aerial photo and countywide lidar – properties are designed before you set foot on the ground.
    Similarly Appraisal Districts become the arbiter of what is where.
    We are in danger of becoming irrelevant.

    1. Noel,
      I want to explore some possibilities with thinking out-of-the-box. Although I am opposed to the merge with the board of engineers, in my opinion, simply because I believe the mission of the board is to protect the public’s welfare (ie. property), it cannot be done with a board made up of civil, mechanical, electrical, computer, structural, etc., engineers and ONE land surveyor.

      As for your comment of the Texas Coordinate System, it is a statutory requirement that surveys done for the benefit of the permanent school fund be referenced to this system. However, coordinates will not replace the courts’ decisions to hold natural and artificial monuments over man-made measurements. The knowledge of case law is being lost due to the surveyors not educating the public about the importance of our service. During a land transaction, the professional who has the most liability is the one who is least compensated and appreciated; the surveyor! (My two-cents!)

      Thanks for you comments.

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