The Grand County Council came to a “monumental” decision Oct. 16 when members voted unanimously to split the cost with San Juan County to clean up the boundary line.
The exact boundary separating Grand and San Juan counties has been unclear for several years and for all that time it was not an issue. But then development began to encroach and some properties straddle the county line, raising questions of residency for the tax assessors and voter registrars, and providing services, such as law enforcement, among other issues.
The council agreed to spend up to $6,000 to “re-monument” the boundary following a presentation from surveyor Sean Fernandez of the State of Utah’s Automated Geographic Reference Center and San Juan County Surveyor Sam Cantrell.
Fernandez said the Utah Supreme Court defined the line in 1962 following years of litigation, but there has been more than one survey and not all of the monuments – which are placed on section lines at one-mile intervals – were as accurate as they could be. Some of them, in fact, were more than 100 feet off. Those have been “x’d” out, said Cantrell.
Most of the affected area is in Spanish Valley and mostly private property with some parcels owned by the state or federal governments have been impacted, said Cantrell. According to the report the men prepared, the common boundary of the two counties runs from the Colorado border on the east to the middle of the Green River to the west.
The southern boundary of Grand County and northern San Juan County boundary have, since Grand County was created in 1890, been placed at parallel 38 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude.
According to the Utah Supreme Court 56 years ago, the difficulty “has been placing this boundary on the surface of the Earth.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort. At least eight surveys were conducted between 1880 and 1956, according to the report. In the three years following the Supreme Court ruling, 1962 to 1965, surveyors from the two counties either set boundary monuments in the wrong location or found others that were set in the wrong location.
According to the report, in 2017 surveyors – using modern equipment – discovered six of 20 county boundary monuments were set erroneously.
The problem is exacerbated by a lack of public record documenting surveys and their findings, as well as other surveys – for “countless private parcels, a major connector road (Sunny Acres Lane) and five subdivisions have been surveyed and developed since … the early 1960s. It is our opinion that these surveys have also added to the confusion as to the physical location of the San Juan-Grand County boundary,” according to the report.
There are three areas of concern: insufficient correct monument placement, the lack of any public record, and how to deal with jurisdictional issues for properties that straddle the line.
Cantrell said the men who performed the boundary survey in the early 1960s “did a pretty good job.” The report suggests this “good faith effort must be honored.”
The lack of public documentation can be blamed on the laws in place at the time. Surveyors were not required to record a survey until 1987.
At the moment, 27 property owners are affected by the boundary transecting their parcels. The report says they “need to be made aware of the location of the county boundary on their parcels and the existing or potential issues this might cause now or in the future.”
The surveyors recommend keeping in place 13 of the monuments set in the early 1960s. They also recommend adding additional monuments using global navigation satellite systems at roughly one-mile intervals. Finally, a survey plat should be recorded, complete with facts and findings and all other relevant documents.
The total cost of the effort was set at roughly $11,600, which the two counties will split down the middle.