Job of surveyors: Keeping people honest

SCITUATE – With an ongoing shortage of surveyors in the state, the Rhode Island Society of Professional Land Surveyors spent Sunday afternoon at Esek Hopkins Park giving demonstrations to kick off National Surveyors Week and gain attention for the profession.

Roger Briggs, of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, was joined by RISPLS President David Bray and past President Ed O’Brien to discuss the importance of land surveyors and how the field has evolved over the centuries.
Briggs said when most people think about surveyors, they think of property boundary disputes and mapping out boundaries for purchases, but surveying is much more than that.
Working for RIDOT, much of his work includes going to construction sites to find elevations, map out where structures can be built, locate services such as sewer and water lines, and to find any wetlands on a property.
Surveyors help protect the environment and can design wastewater runoff systems, Briggs said.
The diverse field does much more than identify land boundaries, he said, but they do that as well.
“It is much more than walking around in the woods. We often do hours of research looking at property deeds and historic documents before evening setting foot on a property,” he told The Valley Breeze & Observer.
Sometimes, boundary signifiers can be a rock that 30 years ago was moved and now the whole process starts again, Briggs said. Other times, a sly neighbor may move a marker over a couple of yards to grow their property.
“It’s our job to keep them honest,” he said.
Briggs said the surveying profession nationwide is in need of more surveyors. He estimates that there are about 67 surveyors in Rhode Island.
The RISPLS is a volunteer organization with a mission to promote the profession and offer scholarships, educational opportunities, promotional material and a watchful eye on legislation that may affect the profession.
O’Brien said Rhode Island one of a few states in New England that does not grant surveyors the right of access to properties when researching land boundaries.
He said surveyors are the “stewards of boundaries,” and need protection from prosecution in land disputes, or from when homeowners call the police for trespassing.
Often, surveyors need to go on neighboring lots to research a boundary to attempt to find its exact location. Sometimes property owners are understanding, other times not, O’Brien said.
“It’s part of the job; we deserve protection,” he said.
For more information on the RISPLS, visit .