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R.A. Smith National, Inc. Knowledge Blog

Protecting Class 1 Trout Streams in Wisconsin

by Eric Sturm 20. March 2017 12:03

Eric Sturm

Did you know that, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), there are “5,289 miles of Class 1 trout streams in Wisconsin?” That’s a significant amount of trout stream waters that WDNR has classified as “high quality and having sufficient natural reproduction to sustain populations of wild trout, at or near carry capacity.”

While many Wisconsin trout streams have remained untouched, there are some streams that have been disturbed over the years for agricultural purposes and are now being restored. Because it is important to understand the original location of these streams before they can be reconstructed, WDNR works with a professional land surveyor such as R.A. Smith National to both identify the original location of the stream as well as stake the path for the reconstruction.

Scuppernog River

Our survey crews at R.A. Smith National recently provided construction staking and topographic surveying services to the WDNR for the reconstruction of 3,900 lineal feet of Bluff Creek Class 1 trout stream in Whitewater and previously provided the same services for 5,250 lineal feet of Scuppernong River Class 1 trout stream in Eagle.

Our survey crews identify where the stream was originally located (typically referencing historical photos), measure the existing elevation at each end of the section of stream to be reconstructed, collect topographic data every 50 feet along the stream’s path using GPS, and provide construction staking to identify exactly where the new stream should be constructed to most closely match the stream’s original location.

R.A. Smith National’s working partnership with the WDNR to restore Class 1 trout streams represents our organization’s commitment to the environment as a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Green Tier company.

Map of Scuppernog River

In order to identify where Scuppernog River was once located, and in an effort to restore this important trout stream, our land surveyors collected topographic data and measured existing stream elevations.

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Ecology | Surveying

2016 Land Title Survey Standards

by John Casucci 1. October 2015 07:50

What you need to know about the new ALTA Survey standards.

The revised ALTA Survey specifications are scheduled to take effect February 2016.  The below commentary itemizes the significant changes to survey specifications, responsibilities and requirements.

1. The Survey will be known as an ALTA/NSPS LAND TITLE SURVEY. The title has been revised to reflect the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), which is the legal successor organization to the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM). All references to ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys must be changed to ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys.

Revisions affecting Table A

2. Complete revision to Item 11 – depicting evidence of the location of utilities.

a. Table A, Item 11A – Observed evidence – has been eliminated and is now written into the specifications as Item 5E(ii)-5E(v). All ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys are required to depict surface indications of underground utilities, including ditches, manholes, vents, valves, pedestals, utility poles, etc. 

b. Table A, Item 11 has been revised to: utilities existing on or serving the surveyed property as determined by:

• Observed evidence
• Evidence from plans...
• Markings from utility locate

c. Additional narrative has been added, acknowledging that surveyors must rely on third party locating services (Diggers Hotline), which routinely ignores, or provides inadequate, utility marking. In these cases, the surveyor will note as such on the survey and the client is advised that excavation or a private utility locating request may be necessary.

3. Table A, Item 6 – Zoning classifications and setback requirements have been revised and rewritten to require a zoning letter or report be provided to the surveyor as a condition of depicting the information on the survey.

4. Table A, Item 8 – has been revised to include the depiction of substantial features and uses, including substantial areas of refuse.

5. Table A, Item 18 – Observed evidence of site use as a solid waste dump, sump or sanitary landfill has been eliminated.

6. Table A, Item 18 has been rewritten to identify the location of wetland delineation flags, if a delineation has been conducted. If a delineation has not been conducted, a note stating that no flags were observed shall be noted on the survey.

7. Table A, Item 19 has been changed to depict any plottable offsite easement or servitudes disclosed in record documents.

8. The requirement of setting monuments at the corners of the offsite easements or servitudes has been eliminated.

Revisions referenced in the Specifications

9. Per Section 5 (B)(ii) of the specifications: for abutting public or private roads, the width and location of each edge of the traveled way, including divided streets, must be depicted unless the recorded documents disclose there is no access to the road(s).

10. Per Section 5 (C)(ii) of the specifications: the location of trees, bushes, shrubs or other natural vegetation does not need to be located unless they are deemed by the surveyor to be evidence of possession.

11. Per Section 5 (G)(i) of the specifications: the location of springs, ponds, lakes, streams, ditches, swamps, etc. running through or outside, but within 5 feet of the boundary of the surveyed property, must be depicted. 

12. Per Section 6 (B)(x): the survey must note if there are any areas on the boundaries of the surveyed property where physical access within five feet was restricted.

The 2016 specifications continue the revisions of 2011, which state the survey shall bear only the specified certification and preparing a new legal description is to be avoided unless deemed appropriate by the surveyor and insurer.

Please note that the above is a partial list, and may not reflect the final version scheduled to become effective February 2016. Please contact John Casucci at with any questions or for an update on the status of the revised ALTA Survey specifications.


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Wisconsin Removes 50-Foot Highway Setback Restriction

by John Casucci 23. February 2015 08:53

From 1999 to 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), acting under Administrative Rule Trans 233, reviewed land divisions for compliance with access, setback, noise and traffic visibility. By far, the most controversial item was the 50-foot highway setback, which prohibited improvements within the 50-foot corridor.

Trans 233 was eventually declared invalid by Dane County Circuit Court Case No. 06-CV-4294, Madison Area Builders Association, et al v. Wisconsin Department of Transportation; et al. From 2009 to present WisDOT has not been reviewing land divisions as a result of the court ruling. The court ordered that Trans 233 revert to the 1996 version, which only applies to subdivision plats, thereby taking away WisDOT’s powers to impose restrictions on other forms of land divisions.

As a result of this court order and upon request, WisDOT will release the setback line on land divisions other than subdivision plats.  As of February 2015 there is a two-step process. A letter of release must be obtained from WisDOT and a correction document prepared. Both documents will be recorded at the Register of Deeds’ office.

If you have a project that has been subjected to the setback restriction (other than by subdivision plat) please contact me at R.A. Smith National at 262-317-3249 or We will be happy to assist you in the removal of the setback restriction.



“Why Do I Need a Survey?”

by Steve Southwell 4. December 2014 11:20

“Why do I need a survey? This is a question that real estate attorneys often hear from their clients. The answer is that there are many reasons.

  • Legal descriptions that do not work mathematically.
  • Field monumentation that does not agree with the required legal description.
  • Flood plains, wetlands and other environmental issues that affect the use and value of a property.
  • Encroachments of improvements across the property boundary lines.
  • Easements that restrict where buildings and other improvements can be built.
  • Legal access from the property to a public street.

For these reasons and many others, attorneys know that a current land survey is an important part of the due diligence process in acquiring real estate. The items revealed on the survey may require resolution prior to the acquisition or the deal may fall through completely.

In presentations given to law firms, one of the standard examples of why a survey is needed is the million dollar manhole. A company purchased a large parcel and had big plans to improve it. Sometime after the sale, it was discovered that a large municipal sewer line ran through this property. Usually, an easement is recorded that then shows up in a title search as an exception to title. When the easement is plotted on a survey, it is easy to see where it is and how it affects the property. Unfortunately, no easement was recorded. A survey was prepared for this property. The easement was not shown on the survey because the title commitment did not list it in the exceptions.

So the buyer then sought a million dollars in damages for not being made aware of this problem prior to the purchase. The title company was off the hook because the easement was never recorded. However, the surveyor omitted showing the manhole on the survey. The field crew missed it during the data collection process. Since the surveyor is obligated to show all improvements and also all visible signs of a possible easement, they were held liable. It was an honest mistake, but the buyer ended up being compensated partly due to the fact that a survey was done. This example also illustrates how it is important for a survey firm that is chosen to perform the survey and have the insurance and resources necessary to cover a mistake.

We now have a newer example of an even larger loss. A waterfront home in Rhode Island was built on the wrong Lot. The $1.8 million house was built by a developer. Apparently, he was able to draw permits and construct the home without ever having a licensed surveyor involved. The developer went to sell the home in 2011. The buyer had a survey done and the error was discovered. The home was built on a public park. The land could not be sold to the developer due to deed restrictions. The developer lost every appeal including the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Now the house has to be removed.

A survey can be expensive, but the cost of not doing one can be far greater. Most of the time, no big problems are discovered on a survey, but as these examples illustrate, a loss can be huge.

The same guy that asks the attorney; “Why do I need a survey?” will be the same guy that asks “Why didn’t you protect me by ordering a survey?”

A survey can protect a buyer from many problems. When the new owner wants to sell or refinance, the survey is very valuable. It is usually not expensive to update it in the future. Selecting a survey firm that is stable, has a good reputation and will be around in the future adds value to the survey as well.              





Why is Wisconsin (and the Midwest) Square?

by John Casucci 12. June 2014 04:30

When on an airplane or viewing Google Earth, have you observed how roads create a grid pattern?  Have you ever wondered why it is that way?

The simplest answer is because land surveyors in the early 1800s established the grid pattern.  But there’s really a more interesting story behind why Wisconsin (and the Midwest) is square.

For those of you old enough to remember, put yourself into the setting of the television show Little House on the Prairie that aired back in the 1970s and 1980s. Your family purchased 40 acres, built a cabin and began farming. As you finish plowing and planting your field, you look up and see your neighbor’s wagon and family walking across your just-plowed field on their way to town. You see, the original survey instructions did not address roads or traveling through the subdivided lands. Only after the Midwest was settled did the county or local government allow landowners to petition for the creation of a public road right of way. At that time it made sense to have each landowner contribute to the creation of the roads, so most were established along common property lines that just happen to be the grid patterns established by the first surveyors. 

So the reason why the Midwest is so square is because the land was subdivided that way…AND the grid is the result of the 1800s road agreements to keep neighbors off each other’s land!

So how was it decided to create the grid pattern?
As a result of the Louisiana and other land purchases, the West was open to subdivision and settlement.  At the 1785 Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson is largely credited with the concept of “survey before settlement.” Several factors influenced the subdivision of the land:

  • Immigrants were streaming into the country, creating a huge demand to settle in the West.
  • The US Treasury had an urgent need for money.
  • There was a need for surveyed boundaries to avoid conflicts with settlers and the government.
  • Surveyed boundaries allowed the settlers to FIND the land (no realtors back then).
  • Land prices were low, $1.25 an acre, which created a need for fast, efficient survey work.
  • Surveyors earned from $4 to $10 per mile, split between a crew of five to eight men.

Original instructions for the division of land in the early 1800s called for the creation of townships. Townships were created by running lines with a magnetic compass every six miles: in a north–south direction (range lines) and east-west direction (town lines). Townships were created as a 36-square mile block, numbered from Section 1 to Section 36.

After the townships were surveyed, other surveyors were charged with creating and monumenting the interior 36 Sections, each one mile by one mile square. Monuments were set every 1/2 mile. This procedure established the framework of the four-quarter sections of each section. 

Quarter Sections 

Breakdown of Quarter Sections

Monuments were whatever was plentiful nearby. In Wisconsin, wood posts were set. In the Plains, an earth mound was created or stones were carried to the corner to create a pile of stones.  It was expected as the land was passed from generation to generation, the owners would perpetuate the original monuments.

So now you know the whole story behind why Wisconsin (and the Midwest) is square and why land is subdivided the way it is!



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