Gil Bouchie has a beautiful tract of land, with a perfect building site for his new home, but there is just one problem. No one can tell him for certain if the building site he thought was in St. Francois County really is.
A discrepancy over the longest portion of the county line between St. Francois and Ste. Genevieve counties has come to light, according to the elected surveyors for both entities.
It appears to be a rather small discrepancy even when shown on a rather large map. The narrow strip runs along a 20-mile portion of the boundary between the two counties and is just 1,100-feet-wide at the widest point. Looks are deceiving, though, and this seemingly small gray area could have far-reaching implications.
Left undefined, it could cloud such things as county assessments and property taxes, elections and future road maintenance. It might also affect future land sales and wills for those who might choose the county line as a marker for legal documents.
According to a 1964 topographic map, there were about 32 homes in the affected 1,400-acre area. Assuming a modest 3 percent growth in homes from then until now, that would put a minimum of 40 homes there. With the rapid growth the area has experienced, it is likely the number is greater than that, but 40 homes would house enough votes to potentially affect a close election.
Both county surveyors pointed out there was just such an election in recent memory -- for the Associate Commissioner District #1 in Ste. Genevieve County. That election was won by Linda Hermann, the incumbent, by 19 votes.
The discrepancy in the county line came to light after Bouchie sought a definitive answer as to whether the building site he had selected on his new property was in St. Francois County. He had settled on that county as his residence of choice.
His tract of land lies across both counties near Route D and Gillespie Road. County records say his building site is in St. Francois County, but he wanted an up-to-date survey to show that in writing before spending the money to actually build.
Unfortunately for him, the chain links and compasses of the past that were used to set down the original county boundaries have clashed with the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and lasers of today.
The original boundary between the counties was set forth by state statutes in 1841. On the portion of the border that is in question, the legislature names two specific points and describes the boundary as a straight line between them, with a particular bearing.
That line was surveyed for the state's legal description in 1841 using the accepted method of the time -- chain links of a designated length for measuring the distance from specified points and a compass for determining direction. In 1925, that line was retraced, again using chain links and a compass, which the two county surveyors said would have been the accepted method of the time.
Those 1925 surveyors retraced that 1841 line, and detailed notes of the Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois county surveyors are still available to show the kind of meticulous work they did.
"Even as little as 20 years ago, you would not have been able to identify this discrepancy," Ste. Genevieve County Surveyor Gerald Bader said.
St. Francois County Surveyor Terry Effan stood at his side nodding agreement with that statement. Both the surveyors believe it was not technologically feasible then to have done a more accurate line and do not fault their predecessors for their work.
But, with newer technology, the discrepancy is relatively easy to pinpoint, and they believe it is time to make a clear determination which line is to be the legal boundary, because of the potential effect on voting rolls, assessments and future land transfers and wills.
They have both contacted the state Land Survey Program to request assistance and they have notified their respective county commissions of the matter.
Michael Flowers, who is with the Department of Natural Resources Land Survey Program, said the problem is not unusual. Such discrepancies have come to light elsewhere in similar fashion, as outlying areas become more populated, he said.
Flowers said the likely step from here will be a future public hearing to discuss the matter. Officials in both counties will have to decide what they want to do about the problem.
Flowers indicated that in other areas where this problem has occurred, it is a legal matter and that resolution can be a lengthy process, depending on the position taken by the elected officials.
He added that the process could be speeded if the counties are willing to help pay for a new survey, saying that the state's budget for doing such work is spread fairly thin.
Flowers estimated a new survey could cost between $20,000 and $30,000, in ball park figures.
Ste. Genevieve County's Presiding Commissioner Dennis Hook indicated they are going to wait and see what the state wants them to do about the matter before spending money for a new survey.
He added that he believes the line could eventually move.
Ste. Genevieve would stand to gain substantial ground if the line moved to the one determined by GPS, which would improve the county's tax base.
The St. Francois County Presiding Commissioner Mark Hedrick said they would most likely let the state "make the determination so that it will be correct."
He was not certain at press time whether St. Francois County would put up money for the survey, saying that the state should have money for such issues in its budget, but added it would depend on what other parties involved in the matter, such as Ste. Genevieve, want to do.
Bouchie is among those with a stake in the affected area who are hoping the resolution won't be lengthy and that effort will be taken to speed the process. His house plans are in limbo as he waits for a definitive answer.
He also hopes the government entities involved will accept the old line as it is.
"It's going to cause too many problems, otherwise," he said.
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