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A Closer Look At The Responsibilities Of The County Surveyor

The statutory responsibilities of the County Surveyor are outlined in Utah Code 17-23. Lets take a closer look at several of those responsibilities:

17-23-1 (3)(a)(ii) and 17-23-1 (2)(b) "The surveyor of each county shall: perform or arrange for the performance of all surveying work for the county;....." and "The county surveyor shall execute: all orders of survey required by the county executive or county legislative body."

Over the years this office has been involved in many different types of surveying projects for various departments in the county including the County Commission. The nature and scope of such projects have included such things as surveys of real property owned by the county preparatory to development (new buildings, parks, etc.); surveys for road construction for new county roads; surveys for new trails, bridges, etc. and surveys to clear title issues involving county roads heretofore defined by prescriptive use. Surveys in the past have come about as a result of direct requests from several county departments. In the past this office has performed survey work for the Commission, Attorney, Sheriff, Community Development, Public Works (County Engineer), etc. While our office retains a relatively small staff, we have been able to handle various smaller scale survey projects over the years. This has certainly been able to produce a cost savings to the taxpayer as it has saved the expense of contracting some surveying services.

17-23-1 (3)(a)(iii) "The surveyor of each county shall: permanently keep at county government offices at the county seat a fair and accurate record of all surveys made, including legal descriptions and geographic coordinates, all surveys received pursuant to Section 17-23-17, and all corner files received pursuant to Section 17-23-17.5;"

Record keeping is a vital part of the County Surveyor's responsibilities. Land surveying by its very nature requires a vast amount of research and our office is one of the most important sources of information for the private surveying community. We take pride in the sources of information that we house. While not perfect in many areas, we continue to try to improve what we already have and acquire that which we don't have. Virtually every piece of information that we house in our office is a matter of public record, so we purposely try to be neat and thorough for the sake of the public record and for the public users of the information both present and future.

17-23-1 (4)(a) "The county surveyor or his designee shall establish all corners of government surveys and reestablish all corners of government surveys where corners have been destroyed and where witness markers or other evidence of the government corners remain so that the corners established by government survey can be positively located".... (d) "Established or reestablished corners shall be recognized as the legal and permanent corners."

This section of statute pertains to one of the most if not the most singularly important functions that the County Surveyor must deal with. The monuments representing the corners of the public land survey system (PLSS) literally form the definition of virtually all record title (deed) interests (see History of PLSS). It is because all of our property rights tie back in some way to these corners that the work of the County Surveyor becomes so very critical. The research and analysis that the County Surveyor must use in the process of establishing or reestablishing corners is of the utmost importance to ensure property rights are maintained.

17-23-14 (1) "Any person who finds it necessary to disturb any established corner in the improvement of a road, or for any other cause, or finds a monument which needs rehabilitation, shall notify the county surveyor."

Due to the importance of the corner monuments and their significance in defining property boundaries and property rights, it is clear to see why it is important that there exists an entity responsible for their protection and preservation. This Office has long recognized the fact that it alone cannot be 100% effective in their mission to identify and protect them. We rely heavily on the private surveying industry, landowners, contractors, municipalities, and the public in general to be involved with this notification and preservation process. The notification process via a survey monument excavation permit allows the County Surveyor the time he needs to adequately reference the corner monument prior to covering or disturbing.

17-23-15 (1) "No person shall willfully or negligently remove, destroy or deface any government survey monument, corner, or witness corner. (2) Any person who violates this section is guilty of a class C misdemeanor and is additionally responsible for: (a) the costs of any necessary legal action; and (b) the cost of reestablishing the survey monument, corner or witness corner."

The survey monuments of the PLSS as well as other government monuments are protected by federal and state laws as well as county ordinance. It is much less painful and costly to go thru the notification process mentioned above than to face fines and/or prosecution. The survey monument excavation permit process also allows for entities to submit plans to our office for verification that a survey monument may be affected, prior to actually taking out a permit.

17-23-16 "In the resurvey of lands surveyed under the authority of the United States, the county surveyor or his designee shall observe the following rules: (1) Section and quarter-section corners, and all other corners established by the government survey, shall stand as the true corner. (2) Missing corners shall be reestablished at the point where existing evidence would indicate the original corner was located by the government survey. (3) In all cases, missing corners must be reestablished with reference to the United States Manual of Surveying Instructions."

This office has been actively engaged in locating the established corner monuments or reestablishing the obliterated and lost monuments for many years (see "The County Surveyor and the public land system today"). In order to be effective in this area of statute a surveyor must be part historian and part analyst. He must be able to gather facts and evidence and weigh that with the record and come up with the conclusions that would best represent the intent of the original survey. He must try to place himself in the shoes of the original surveyor inasmuch as land rights are dependent on that type of analysis. The United States Manual of Surveying Instructions was originally drafted as both a general and a specific guideline for the benefit of the surveyors of the public lands. It is also relied on heavily today by surveyors doing retracement work of the original surveys of the PLSS.

17-23-17 (2)(a)(i) "Each land surveyor making a boundary survey of lands within this state to establish or reestablish a boundary line or to obtain data for constructing a map or plat showing a boundary line shall file a map of the survey that meets the requirements of this section with the county surveyor or designated office within 90 days of the establishment or reestablishment of a boundary....(b) The county surveyor or designated office shall file and index the map of the survey. (c) The map shall be a public record in the office of the county surveyor or designated office."

Prior to 1987 when this section of state law was added, a property owner who had a survey done would have to make sure that he kept a copy of the survey in his records. Many times these records of survey were not handed down from owner to owner as the property changed hands over the years. If a record of survey was lost it was hoped that someone knew who the surveyor was that performed the work and hoped further that they could get a copy of the survey from them. If that information could not be obtained a property owner would be forced to have to foot the cost of another survey, potentially costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Since the enactment of this section of State Code, the surveying community is required to file a copy of his survey with the County Surveyor's Office. This means that there now is a location where those surveys are stored on file as a public record that can be accessed by property owners, surveyors, title officers, Recorders, etc.

17-23-17.5 (2)(a) "Any land surveyor making a boundary survey of lands within this state and utilizing a corner shall, within 90 days, complete, sign and file with the county surveyor of the county where the corner is situated, a written record to be known as a corner file for every public land survey corner and accessory to the corner which is used as control in any survey by the surveyor, unless the corner and its accessories are already a matter of record in the county.....(3) The county surveyor of the county containing the corners shall have on record as part of the official files maps of each township within the county the bearings and lengths of the connecting lines to government corners, and government corners looked for and not found....(6) When a corner record of a public land survey corner is required to be filed under the provisions of this section and the monument needs to be reconstructed or rehabilitated, the land surveyor shall contact the county surveyor in accordance with Section 17-23-14."

Even though a majority of the corner monuments of the PLSS located in Utah County have been identified and currently of record in our office, there are certain areas where we are lacking information. In those instances, we look to the private surveying industry doing work in those areas to assist where possible by filing corner records with our office. Once notified by filing a corner record, we do an in-depth field analysis. Once comfortable, we publish the data in the format we are accustomed to, with coordinates and inter-monument mathematical relationships along with other records to help with establishing a "pedigree" or history of the monument(s). As mentioned previously, we depend largely upon the private surveying community to notify us when there is a potential for disturbing a corner monument. The level of reliability for accurately being able to restore an obliterated monument increases many times when we have the advance notification and can "reference" the monument just prior to obliteration.

17-23-19 (1) "The county legislative body may establish by ordinance a fund to be known as the Public Land Corner Preservation Fund. Moneys generated for the fund shall be used only to pay expenses incurred and authorized by the county surveyor in the establishment, reestablishment, and maintenance of corners of government surveys pursuant to the powers and duties provided under Title 17, Chapter 23, and Title 57, Chapter 10."

The County Commission has seen the importance and necessity of preserving individual property rights thru the preservation process of the monuments of the Public Land Survey System. Recently at the request of the County Surveyor and with the help of the County Attorney, the County Commission drafted and approved the Ordinance setting up such a fund in Utah County. Such an ordinance allows certain revenues attributable to the corner monuments to be used in their preservation.

Other Statutory Responsibilities

17-23-1 (2)(a) "The county surveyor shall execute: all orders directed to the surveyor by any court;..."

While having not occurred very often, this Office has been involved in performing survey work as a result of a directive given by the courts. Typically such directives have been something of a fairly large scale.

17-23-1 (3)(a)(i) "The surveyor of each county shall: advise the county executive and county legislative body regarding all surveying work;....."

This Office provides a written report to the county commission on a regular basis. The report includes detailed descriptions of what projects we have been involved in as well as the level of progress pertaining to those projects.