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“Desktop Utility Line Routing” vs. “Boots on the Ground” … Finding the Balance

by David on September 9, 2015

The voice on the other end of the phone said, “I think my client may have a problem…,” then she continued, “I’m looking for some help from a professional land surveyor to determine if my client constructed their pipeline across private property where they didn’t have an easement. And, on future projects I’d like some guidance on how to ensure we have acquired easements on EVERY tract we cross so we can avoid this type of surprise in the first place.”
Does this situation sound familiar? If you are developing and constructing a pipeline or transmission line across private property based on “desktop routing” alone, then you stand a very good chance of being surprised by boundary/easement problems. The risks - and potential for risks – that you are not aware of and that can result from inadvertently not acquiring easements - or acquiring easements in the wrong place - are usually not obvious to the non-surveyor, but they usually are to the professional surveyor.  That does not, however, necessarily mean that your surveyor will always suggest a full-blown and expensive field survey.
We all know it’s much better in terms of costs - and reputation - to obtain those rights beforehand rather than after the fact.  Understanding the importance and application of boundary control and legal principles, together with statutes and rules, is paramount when it comes to negotiating acquisitions and clearing title for right-of-way.
While we don’t want to necessarily encourage the creation of rights-of-way without a survey, we do recommend engaging the services of an experienced professional surveyor as a consultant during the early stages of the routing process.  This will help ensure the continuity of a proposed right-of-way and help ascertain the existence of possible strips, gores, vacancies, etc. between adjoining deeds crossed by that right-of-way.
If you find yourself in a problem situation with an existing right-of-way like the one at the start of this blog, or if you want to avoid it altogether and depart from the typical concerns associated with “desktop routing” by non-surveyors, please contact us here at Schneider Geomatics.
Our experienced professional surveyors will discuss your concerns with you, and develop a step-by-step strategy to provide deed review and preliminary mapping services with two goals in mind. First, to try to minimize necessary on-the-ground field reconnaissance, and second, to try and identify those specific areas having the highest potential risk of boundary issues.
Here are the highlights of a typical strategy:

  • Work with provided record research and/or perform the necessary research ourselves to support the determination of the approximate location of the impacted boundaries.
  • Use current deeds of tracts over which the right-of-way crosses, together with those of adjacent off-line tracts, to attempt to verify continuity of the right-of-way and to ascertain possible strips, gores, vacancies, etc. between adjoining deeds crossed by the right-of-way.
  • Compare these results to county GIS data and/or property assessor maps as an independent check on the contiguity of the deeds.
  •  Use current and historical digital mapping data, if available, as a visual check of obvious occupation lines, roads and maintained rights-of-way, rivers, streams and other natural features, etc.
  • Use other forms of non-rectified imagery typically available in the public domain for confirmation of features observed in the digital mapping data.
  • Where available, reference additional miscellaneous sources of information (right-of-way plans, plats and surveys just to name a few) that might be necessary or useful.
  • After having reviewed and summarized the relevant preliminary information, develop a proposal to perform, in each potential problem area identified, the necessary ground survey work to locate the appropriate physical monuments and other evidence required to accurately retrace the boundary lines.  It is often helpful and appropriate to perform very limited on-the-ground reconnaissance of certain boundary evidence to assist in assembling the record information.

We understand that you may not want or need full-blown survey services right at the beginning of a routing project, but there are many steps that a professional surveyor can take to help assure fewer problems on your project before committing “boots on the ground.”