State Surveyor makes four recommendations for San Juan and Grand counties border survey

by Rhett Sifford
Recommendations for the re-monumentation of the San Juan County – Grand County boundary took top priority at the Oct. 9 County Commission business meeting. The report was presented by Utah State Cadastral Surveyor Sean Fernandez and San Juan County Surveyor Sam Cantrell ahead of expected growth in Spanish Valley. Two-thirds of Spanish Valley lies within Grand County, with the southern third located in San Juan County.
Fernandez said the county boundary has been unclear for several years and has recently become more of an issue with development creeping up on both sides. He said that the State of Utah established codes in 2005 that gave the State Surveyor the responsibility to help clarify issues such as boundary disputes and that his services were engaged because Grand County does not have a surveyor.
Fernandez recommended that both county commissions agree upon a common boundary as quickly as possible to avoid complications with future development. County Liaison Jerry McNeely pointed out that growth will occur very rapidly once sewer and water is in place on the San Juan County portion of Spanish Valley. County Commissioner Bruce Adams agreed and stressed the county’s need to plan effectively so, “we are not caught out when things start to develop.”
Fernandez reported that the Utah Supreme Court decided in 1962 that the county boundary should be located along a specified latitude of 38 degrees, 30 minutes north. Based on the ruling, San Juan County Surveyor Donald (Chap) Blake and Grand County Surveyor George (Hub) Newell, in cooperation with the Utah state engineer, undertook a field survey from 1962 through 1965 to monument the boundary of the two counties on the ground. During the survey, some monuments were either set or found to be set in the wrong locations.
During the summer of 2017, the San Juan County Survey Department conducted a retracement survey of the 1962 Blake and Newell county boundary survey and found a total of 33 monuments. 20 of the monuments have markings designating them as county boundary monuments.
Of those 20, six were found to be erroneously set and one in Spanish Valley was found to be completely obliterated. The remaining 13 monuments are United States Coast and Geodetic Survey triangulation station monuments that were never meant to identify the county boundary.
Fernandez said the uncertainty regarding the location of the county boundary has led to procedural errors in the creation of subdivisions in the area, which have in turn fueled controversy. He added the errors have caused problems with other county-related jurisdictional responsibilities such as taxation, voting, emergency and medical services, addressing, school districting, road ownership and maintenance.
Fernandez addressed four main areas of concern based on the investigation of the boundary issue: insufficient correct monument placement, the lack of public record documenting the location and findings of the county boundary, affected property owners’ awareness as to the location of the county boundary as it transects their property, and the potential lack of a mechanism in place to deal with jurisdictional issues.
He made four recommendations to provide solutions for each of the issues:
Recommendation number one: The 13 recovered Blake and Newell monuments will be held in their present locations to represent the two county surveyors’ best effort to monument the location for the San Juan – Grand County boundary at its legislatively intended position of Parallel 38 degrees, 30 minutes North Latitude.
Recommendation number two: Because there are so few monuments marking the extensive boundary, additional monumentation at approximate one-mile intervals needs to be physically set. Modern-day surveying techniques using global navigation satellite systems should be employed to accomplish this task.
Recommendation number three: A record of survey plat should be produced and provided to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Utah. The survey plat should also be recorded in the Office of the County Surveyor and Recorder of each county.
Recommendation number four: The counties should provide public notice as to the time and location of any public meetings to discuss the proposed boundary action. Notice should also be provided as to the location of the recorded survey plat and accompanying documents.
The governing bodies of each county should, with the assistance of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor if necessary, create policies or intergovernmental agreements to deal with jurisdictional issues involving properties transected by the county boundary.
Fernandez pointed out that professionals from the surveying community and government helped develop the recommendations, but the decision as to whether the boundary is better delineated on the surface of the earth ultimately lies with the governing bodies of both San Juan and Grand counties.
The San Juan County Commissioners will meet again for their regularly scheduled meeting Oct. 23.

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