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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has very specific laws which govern how boundary surveys must be performed in the state. These requirements are set out in 250 CMR 6.00 "Land Surveying Procedures and Standards". A property owner who retains a surveyor to establish boundaries should understand that the requirements set out in 250 CMR are the law and surveyors must know the law and insure that all surveys are in full compliance with it.
The 250 CMR 6 Standards are lengthy so a complete discussion of each provision is well beyond the scope of this short introduction. Some of the Standards prescribe how measurements must be made. Other Standards deal with record evidence and physical evidence. The surveyor's duties in finding and setting monuments are also covered. Most of the requirements which directly affect land owners concern surveys which have the potential to affect property rights. In practice, all boundary surveys have the potential to affect property rights. The requirements relating to surveys which are likely to affect property rights are found in 250 CMR 6.02. The discussion that follows touches on only a small fraction of these requirements.
An iron pipe is usually not considered a permanent marker.
A copper pin set in a stone marking a boundary corner.
A concrete bound (permanent marker) being set in the ground.
Surveyors working in Massachusetts are required to understand and make use of the laws of evidence. This includes researching record evidence such as deeds and plans recorded in the Registry of Deeds, public highway departments and other public sources. It is quite common for old deeds to contain conflicting evidence creating ambiguous descriptions, such as incorrect bearings and/or distances, incorrect calls for the type or location of monuments, etc. Surveyors must understand and apply the rules about how to interpret deeds when conflicting evidence exists.
Reconciling Record and Physical Evidence
Surveyors must work with both Record Evidence and Physical Evidence. Physical Evidence consists of the monuments called-for in deed descriptions and plans. For example, one of the images above shows a copper pin set in a stone. The copper pin is an example of physical evidence (a "monument"). If a deed called for a property corner to be fixed on the ground by a copper pin set in a stone, the surveyor would be required to exercise diligence in searching for and finding the original pin. If a deed called for two copper pins 500 feet apart on a property line and the surveyor's measurements indicated that the pins were actually 498 feet apart, the surveyor would have to reconcile the ambiguity and apply the legal rules which govern conflicts between the location of physical evidence and the record measurements describing the location of physical evidence. Because many original surveys are 50 or 100 or more years old, conflicts between measurements and the actual location of physical evidence are very common. Many monuments become disturbed over time. Measurement techniques decades ago may not have been as precise as they are today. The result is that when retracement surveys are made today it is not uncommon for conflicts to arise between the present location of monuments and the record distances between them. The legal rules which must be applied in such cases are clear and must be followed precisely or the resulting property corner locations may be in error.
Setting Adequate Monumentation.
This is perhaps one of the most important but often frequently overlooked requirements. The law requires that when a surveyor perform a boundary survey, the surveyor must set a sufficient number of physical monuments to enable future surveyors to reliably reproduce the lines as surveyed even if some of the monuments become lost or destroyed over time. It is unfortunately not uncommon for a survey to be completed with an insufficient number of monuments. One reason for this outcome is that setting permanent monuments is time consuming and expensive and many surveys are performed on a budget. However, failing to set adequate monuments is not only a violation of the statute but it is a poor way to try to economize. In most cases, the property owner will want to be able to find the property corners at some time in the future. If an insufficient number of monuments are set or if the monuments that are set are not permanent monuments another survey will need to be performed in future in order to replace the missing corners and this will probably cost more than it would have to set permanent monuments in the first place. Surveying can be an expensive proposition but trying to save money by not setting enough permanent markers is usually a poor way to try to economize.
Monuments should be Permanent Monuments.
The statute is clear that monuments must conform to the following size, composition and material:
1. Be sufficient to minimize the likelihood of disturbance due to acts by mankind or natural causes;
2. Be stable enough to adequately meet the accuracy standards of the survey;
3. Have a life expectancy of 25 years or more under normal circumstances;
4. Be detectable using generally employed surveying techniques; and
5. Be identifiable, with reasonable certainty, as having been set by the surveyor.
Monuments such as iron pipes and wooden stakes are usually not considered permanent. Unless the pipe is large and set in concrete, pipes can easily be pulled out of the ground. Wooden stakes will rot after a few years and even pressure treated stakes are easily moved. Reinforcing Bars (Rebars) are commonly used by surveyors to mark property corners. Surveyors usually place plastic or metal "caps" on the top of the rebar making them easier to find. Rebars are also easily found using a metal detector Rebars should probably not be considered permanent monuments because they are often of small diameter (1/2"-3/4") and can be moved or pulled out of the ground without much effort. Because they must be hammered into the ground, which often contains stones, it is difficult to set them accurately so they tend to be less precise as an indication of a boundary corner than a pin set in a large stone or a concrete bound. Considering the typical ground conditions found in our area, permanent monuments are usually limited to concrete bounds or, if the point falls on a large stone, a drill hole or metal pin set in the stone. Aluminum or copper pins are preferable to drill holes because they protrude from the stone surface making them much easier to find than small drill holes which tend to be obscured over time by moss or filled in by mud wasps.
When a Plan is Prepared certain things must be noted.
Physical evidence must be distinguished between evidence that was found and markers that were set. Encroachments must be identified and noted. Appurtenances and encumbrances must be identified and noted. The mathematical information shown on the plan must be such that another surveyor will be able to make a determination that the courses and distances reconcile.
There are many more requirements for boundary surveys that cannot be covered here in this limited space. All property owners who are contemplating having a survey performed are encouraged to look up 260 CMR 6 and acquaint themselves with the standards.
Note on State Plane Coordinates (Massachusetts Coordinate System)
The Massachusetts Coordinate System (state plane) is a way of locating boundary corners on the ground using a fixed datum established by the U.S. National Geodetic Survey. This is normally done using highly precise survey grade Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Because the datum is fixed, it is theoretically possible to relocate lost property corners with a high degree of precision at any time in the future even if all of the monuments set during a survey become lost or disturbed. Because of the cost of tying a survey into the state plane system it is usually not practical for small lot-sized surveys. However, if the survey is large enough (10+ acres), tying into state plane should be considered.