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THE HISTORY OF THE SURVEY RECORDING ACT


        PART ONE 1891 – 1973


        By: Ben V. Petersen, PLS


            ost active licensed land surveyors in Washington have never known   Nonetheless,  many  forward-thinking  surveyors in  Washington  State,
        Ma time when the Survey Recording Act (SRA) wasn’t in effect. But   frustrated by the activities of a few unprincipled surveyors, began to nur-
        few know the full history of the SRA.                  ture and explore the idea of survey recordation to keep everyone honest
                                                               and generally lift the image of the land surveying profession to a higher
          Not to spoil the surprise, but the SRA was hardly a slam-dunk when   plane. Here’s how survey recordation came to be:
        it was first proposed. This seemingly simple and good idea was initially
        met with resistance from what seemed                   SOME EARLY DATES OF IMPORTANCE:
        like everyone and from every direction.   “Laws are like sausages,
        It took nearly 10 years of compromise,   It is best not to see them   July 1, 1891 – California passes an act (Chapter 255) defining the duties
        modifications,  and  revisions  to  pacify             of and the licensing of land surveyors, becoming the first state in the USA
        the opponents. Words and phrases had   being made.”    to do so. That act provides for: a.) The licensing of land surveyors with at
                                                               least 2 years of experience; b.) The appointment of 3 surveyors to a new
        to be added and eliminated to accom-                   Board of Examining Surveyors; c.) That all corners set by a licensed land
        modate all the stakeholders. What ultimately got passed wasn’t perfect but   surveyor include their initials; d.) That a record survey map be filed with
        for the most part retained the original intent of getting surveyors to share   the county within 60 days following completion of each boundary survey
        what they did and how they did it.                     unless preliminary in nature; f.) The revocation of the license of any land
          The  SRA  got  off  to  a  rocky  start.  Non-compliance  and  poor-quality   surveyor for one year for filing to comply with the requirements of this act
        maps were a problem from the start and remain a problem today. Grad-  and a fine of $100 or 30 days in jail for failure to record a survey.
        ually however everyone made their peace and things settled down for a   March 22, 1935 – Chapter 167, House Bill 42 - Governor Clarence D.
        while. Everyone got used to the requirements and the filing fee was low so   Martin signs the Professional Engineers Registration Act (re: RCW 18.43)
        as one surveyor told me “I just file everything so I can remember what I   providing for the licensing of engineers and land surveyors. Effective Jan-
        did”. All was good ….. until Attorney General Opinion (AGO) No. 1 came   uary 1, 1936. A total of 184 land surveyors, many also civil engineers, are
        out in 1989, seemingly out of nowhere. Suddenly, if that rebar and cap   grandfathered in.
        that you set last week got pulled by the neighborhood kids (they do make
        great swords) and your client asked you to swing by and reset it, you had   1942 – Attempts to create a Bureau of Surveys and Maps fails.
        to prepare and file a new Record of Survey. What?        March 22, 1947  –  Chapter  283,  House  Bill  42  –  Governor  Conrad
          LSAW frantically scrambled to pursue an amendment to the SRA to   Wallgren  signs  the  1947  Professional  Engineers  Registration  Act  (re:
                                                               RCW 18.43) which repeals the 1935 registration act and implements the
        counter AGO No. 1. It took a few years and lots of agonizing rounds of   current one.
        discussions and revisions but an amendment to the SRA was finally passed
        in 1992 to “clarify when a boundary survey does NOT need to be record-
        ed” … but it just made matters worse. While the language in the new
        amendment did  clarify some  earlier  questions,  it raised new  ones,  and
        confusion reigned. The survey community found it necessary to convene
        an Ad Hoc Committee of surveyors in 1993 to once again clarify whether
        and when a recorded survey was required involving platted lots in subdi-
        visions and short plats. Their report issued in early 1994 helped a little.
          Gradually most surveyors settled into a second round of peace with
        the SRA by applying their own interpretation of the SRA, as to when a
        boundary survey requires an ROS. Prospective clients however remain
        confused. While soliciting for a surveyor to do their lot survey they were
        and are being told by one surveyor that their survey “has” to be recorded
        while another will tell them it doesn’t and another “maybe”. Given a cost
        of, at least, say $600 (probably more) to prepare a survey map for a platted
        residential lot and with the filing fee set to go over $400, cost definitely
        plays a role in which surveyor they pick to conduct their survey. No won-
        der the public and other professionals question our profession.
          In this issue, and continuing in future issues, I have tried to compile a
        chronological history of our state’s Survey Recording Act from a combi-  Believed to be a picture of the signing of the bill in 1951 creating
        nation of LSAW, WA DNR, Board of Registration, legislative and other   the Bureau of Surveys and maps, Carl Berry, PLS No. 22 is sec-
        records. I am pretty sure I am missing some pieces but the basics are here.   ond from the right and Governor Arthur B. Langlie is at the right.
        Let’s get started.
                                                                 1951 – The enabling legislation (RCW 58.16 then but now RCW 58.24)
        CHRONOLOGY:                                            for Washington State Bureau of Surveys and Maps (now Public Land Sur-
          The roots of the SRA can be traced as far back as 1891 when California   vey Office) was enacted, also creating the Survey Advisory Board.  Fund-
        became the first state to require the licensing of land surveyors and the fil-  ing was passed in 1955 and in 1956 the Bureau was set up. It was the first
        ing of a record of survey. Many of Washington’s surveyors were unaware   of its kind in the country, becoming a model for other states.
        of California’s requirements (and still are today) and were skeptical upon
        learning of it. They weren’t quite sure if it was appropriate or necessary            Continued on next page
        for this state.

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