Iowa land surveyors figure all the angles
For a career that's both indoors and out, a professional needs education and experience
As the floodwaters of 2008 receded and as rebuilding was considered, among the earliest professionals on the scene were the land surveyors.
“Land surveyors were among the first professionals to be called,” recalled Stephen Scott, who started his own surveying company that year. “FEMA and the city required property owners in the flood plain to have elevations certified prior to applying for reconstruction permits.”
Rodney Klien, of Anderson-Bogert Engineers & Surveyors in Cedar Rapids, agreed the floods brought an increase in the company’s business. But that type of work is winding down.
“We did a lot of the work due to the flood, but now that the city is passed many of those hurdles that part of our workload has slowed down quite a bit, actually,” Klien said.
“Since I work for an engineering firm, we do a lot of the initial surveying of property boundaries in addition to the topography,” he said.
“We also obtain all the utility structures — anything that is relative to the site. This helps the engineers know what is on the site so they can design the best fit for how the property drains to storm sewers, or the best way to create a roadway, or how to tie into any existing structures that are around.”
The basis of surveying is geometry — angles and triangles play a key role in the work that is closely associated with the engineering field, particularly civil engineering.
Those seeking a career in the field require strong mathematics acumen along with a keen desire for working outdoors.
Scott graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S. in civil engineering and mentored with four different land surveyors over a period of 14 years.
“Iowa law requires that a person seeking land surveyor licensure must have a combination of education and expertise,” Scott explained. “The minimum education requirement allows for a two-year college degree and as much as 10 years of experience required, depending on the course of study.
“The minimum experience requirement is four years with a four-year B.S. degree in an accredited surveying and mapping program.”
Land surveyors work with developers, commercial interests and governments — “any entity,” Scott noted, “with a goal of achieving any sort of change, or need to secure information on land.”
Most of his clients are private land owners dealing with any project from simply marking property boundaries to establishing new boundaries for farmstead splits by platting.
With the rise in Iowa farmland prices, it would seem that land surveyors would be busier than ever. But Klien said that isn’t necessarily the case.
“When someone sells a piece of property, they don’t have to have it surveyed,” he said.
But he pointed out that surveyors can assist in providing exact ownership points for a client.
“... The difference can mean a lot if you are talking around $25,000 for two acres either way,” he said. “We can survey and find the difference in error, and in doing so a person pretty much pays for their survey just in the value of the land.”
But there is lots of indoor work, too. Gary Casady, a civil engineer and licensed land surveyor working for Fehr Graham (formerly TeKippe Engineering), noted there is plenty of room in a surveyor’s work day for both field and office work.
“There’s always plenty of paperwork,” he laughed.
“The job varies, depending on what position you are working. It could be a case where you will be out in the field all day locating survey markers, or you could be in the office drawing up the surveys that you’ve already done,” he explained.
“At other times you might be in the courthouse doing research on property titles of the properties that you or your firm is surveying for a customer.”
All three surveyors spoke to a change in the industry that has them concerned.
Klien, whose father also is a surveyor, has been surveying since he was 18 years old. But he noted that not a lot of young people are coming into the industry to replace the older, experienced professionals who are getting ready to retire.
He added, however, that the involvement of GPS in the surveying process has cut down the size of surveying teams.
“It has shrunk crews from 6-person teams to a 1-man survey team, and it kind of hurts the industry as far as the number of people who do it — because you don’t need any many,” Klien said.
Fehr Graham’s Casady also wants to encourage more people to enter the surveying field.“I first started surveying with the Iowa Highway Commission in 1974,” he said. “The years have added up,” he laughed, but added, “It is becoming a lost art.”