The Next Big Thing
I helped a friend of mine, interview Mike Thomson in Vancouver BC Canada:
We went up there twice and had about a 4 hour interview both times. The LTSA is a private, non-profit organization. All of the money goes back into the organization to help build a bigger and better system; very little government bureaucracy.
Visit their web site BC Land Title and Survey Authority and see what a well organized, coordinated cadastre looks like.
What needs to be addressed is boundary law. In the US landowners are in control of their boundaries. They been allowed to deed it to others in a pretty sloppy fashion. The PLSS enabled a lot of deeding without surveys. Breaking up a perfect square into mathematical parts is pretty simple on paper. It's been do it yourself since the beginning and that is a fairly economical way to do it. If it was messed up the problem goes to the buyer in the future, the seller cashes his check and washes their hands of it. So we have this “paper” record that is pretty warped from reality. But what's economical to deal with is the paper record, that's what the deed says, gotta stick to that.
Surveyors don't work to long on boundaries until they figure out “it's not how the paper says it is.” But there has been a never ending push to make the world fit the paper instead of reality. It's goes on today and I've come to believe it will continue into the future. Probably the biggest driver is the cost. The cost to get a description properly corrected in the record to reflect the actual math is great. To properly change the description in the record requires a survey and both landowners to the boundary to sign documents and record it. It requires cost, legal work, title work and time. Even when this is all done we don't always end up with anything that can be put into a actuate GIS. Just more paper that may be expensive to locate on the ground in the future.
Now bring in all the boundary law and how the courts have ruled over centuries. The problem of descriptions that don't mathematically work out is not a new one, probably been there since the beginning. The courts have spent a lot of time and effort working through these problems. There is law to follow although I don't think society pays that much attention. Getting your boundary problem resolved by the court is probably the most expensive option of all.
Now lets look at surveyors. All many think you need to locate your boundary is to get it surveyed. Yes, that's part of it but not all. The surveyor doesn't have any authority to adjudicate boundaries. Surveys resolve boundaries because landowners “accept” the survey, not because the survey fixes the location of the boundary. If a landowner doesn't accept a boundary survey they can go to court. Or what I find in my area of work is they just ignore it. The survey gets them some permit they need, they do what they want to do, leave their long established fences where they always been and go on as before. In other words they don't accept the survey or challenge it, they get their permit and life goes on.
To address the law and get an accurate cadastre you would need some process where the boundaries get a survey and proper opinion under law from a surveyor where the boundary is located. Then you would need a statutory process where the boundary is officially accepted by the landowners (legally binding). Then the lines of the survey would need to be properly coordinated and entered in the GIS map. The GIS technology is already in place, that was the easy “cheap” part. The remainder if done according to law without violating landowners constitutional rights, not so cheap and not so fast.
I dunno, from what I've seen it's a long way off.
If there are masses of qualified surveyors to hit the field and monument and tie every corner to a Geo database, then I suppose it could work, after that you need someone to track the ever changing coordinates; until then the most important breakthrough I've seen in GIS is what I noticed in the Natrona County WY GIS:
You can turn on the property lines, and you can see photo imagery, but you can't see the photo under the property lines unless you zoom way out, as you get closer the photo imagery fades to gray and when you get really close it vanishes,,,,,, now that is brilliant. Maybe other GIS do this, but theirs is the only one where I've seen it.
Stop tying iffy property lines to high resolution photos is a great idea and very helpful.
Until the technologists among us recognize and accept that 1) boundaries are legal entities which may be described according to physical features and/or mathematical terms, and that any dimensions, surveyed or otherwise, are the least reliable and least descriptive means by which to define boundary locations, GIS linework, no matter how carefully calculated, will be largely misleading.
If those lines were to be decalred authoritative, particularly if maintained by the Assessor's office or similar bureaucracy that is often heavily influenced by the political leaders of a county, the result would be absolutely disastrous in that when many, if not most will unavoidably conflict with facts on the ground. The number and scale of legal actions and interpersonal conflicts between affected landowners will make our current system appear very stable in comparison.
At best, a cadastral layer in a GIS can be a tool similar to that of previously recorded private survey maps - as a fairly reliable guide to help find existing evidence. Trying to make a mathematical model be authoritative would create no end to the conflicts that will come up between these purportedly authoritative coordinate defined lines and points with the long-established legal principles regarding the effect of particular on-the-ground facts on the true locations of boundaries.
Any proposal to make GIS lines authoritative, or to elevate them anywhere above the position of measurements in the hierarchy of evidence also ignores the fact that the repeatability of measurements and ability to re-establish positions defined or controlled by coordinates relies on too many factors that cannot be controlled by the administrators of the GIS. Those things include but are not limited to the weather, physical conditions which interfere with position observing equipment, the equipment used, the settings in the equipment, the methods used, the skill and care exercised by the equipment user, and all sorts of human error.
Boundaries are not mathematical entities. There is a very valid reason why our court systems recognize this, and it has nothing to do with ensuring work for lawyers.