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Return to: 2004 Feature Stories

CLIENT: BERRYMAN & HENIGAR

March 2004: Professional Surveyor

SURVEYING THE WACISSA/AUCILLA

On June 16, 2003, Berryman & Henigar submitted the final survey of a 4,690 acre tract which was purchased eight days later by the State of Florida as the most recent acquisition in the Wacissa /Aucilla River Sinks Florida Forever project. This survey was the latest chapter in an ongoing mapping and surveying effort by Berryman & Henigar for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of State Lands that has resulted in the acquisition of 38,165 acres in this project over the last three years. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission now manages these lands as part of the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area.

The State of Florida's Florida Forever program is the largest conservation and recreation lands program in the United States. Acquisitions and conservation easements under this program and its predecessor, Preservation 2000, have protected well over one million acres of the state's environmentally sensitive lands. However, there are some factors in state conservation lands acquisitions that make them unique in Florida real estate transactions. Title to lands acquired under Florida Forever is held by the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund.

The Board is composed of the Governor and Cabinet and the duties of acquisition and stewardship of the lands is delegated to the DEP Division of State Lands. Since Florida law prohibits purchase prices of Florida Forever lands to exceed Fair Market Value except under extraordinary circumstances, there are elevated levels of diligence in appraisal, and maps prepared for this purpose are often of a higher quality than in the private sector. One example is the level of detail in the quantification of jurisdictional wetlands areas that can have a direct impact on value.

Another factor is that, under Florida law, title to sovereign submerged lands, which includes tidal water bodies and navigable rivers, is held by the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund. These areas must not be included in acquisitions since the buyer already owns them. The third factor is that there is no plan for resale. The State intends to enjoy long-term management and does not want to be in a position to have to defend the lands from private claims in the future. The acquisition surveys are expected to include the disclosure of all title defects and encroachments, locate the lands with State Plane Coordinates for a GIS inventory, and mark the corners and boundaries for long-term management.

The Wacissa/Aucilla River Sinks project was first put on a state acquisition list in 1985. The project encompasses most of the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers in north Florida. Both rivers are popular for canoeing and their basins support a variety of rare and protected species. The rivers also have historical significance: mastodon tusks from the Aucilla River are the oldest evidence of butchering in North America. The greatest recent threat to the rivers has been from riverfront development. In 1998 there were 10,114 acres yet to be acquired within the project.

However, in the late 1990s a business decision was made by the state's largest private landowner that has dramatically affected many preservation projects in the state: the St. Joe Timberland Company decided to sell much of their landholdings. In March 1999 a 11,920 acre addition to the Wacissa /Aucilla River Sinks project was approved by the State. This was the first of several additions and boundary modifications to the project, and the related St. Joe Timberlands project, over the last four years.

Berryman & Henigar began mapping the St. Joe lands for appraisal in May 1999. The maps were to be comprised of the Upper Wacissa Tract in Jefferson County and the Big Bend Tract in Taylor County, which later became known as the Snipe Island Tract after a coastal island. Aerial targets were set and located with GPS and Berryman & Henigar contracted with a subconsultant to provide rectified aerial photography for a mapping base.

There were weeks of delays waiting for favorable weather conditions for the flight and targets had to be checked and replaced several times before the flight took place. Wetlands delineation and the tide study moved forward with existing photography and the lines were finally transferred to the current photos. Along with the mapping, The Nature Conservancy and the Division of State Lands requested a Boundary Evidence Report which included inspection of the tracts and a report of boundary and internal conditions that might be later cause for curing title defects.

The submittals of the first tasks in the project included a Mean High Water Survey of coastal Taylor County from Econfina State Park to St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, wetlands delineation of more than 17,000 acres on rectified aerial photography with calculated tract boundaries, and a Boundary Evidence Report of the perimeter lines of the two tracts. Many interior roads were under water during the mapping and the coastline was primarily coastal marsh so much of the work was done with ATVs and airboats. A previous map of a Safe Upland Line was used for the Wacissa River water boundary with modifications in some areas after site inspections with Division of State Lands, Bureau of Survey and Mapping representatives.

The first Boundary Surveys in the project by Berryman & Henigar began in December 1999. This survey and mapping task began as a survey of the controlling land corners and appraisal maps of other ownerships in the Wacissa /Aucilla River Sinks project but grew to include multiple submittals of maps and surveys to accommodate the changing boundaries and acquisition status of the project. The final submittals were made 18 months later.

One of the first issues encountered in the surveys was in retracement of the original General Land Office (GLO) surveys. The original surveys occurred when the Wacissa River was in flood and it was said to have more the characteristics of a lake than a river by the original surveyor. Much of the land was river swamp and the bearing trees, which witnessed the original corners, were hardwoods with little or no trace remaining. This was compounded by many years of ownership by timber companies that had no need to perpetuate internal section corner positions. Procedures for reestablishing lost GLO corners are time consuming and costly. They involve many extra miles of survey lines to calculate lost corner positions relative to other remote corners.

To reduce the effort, and the cost, of this retracement work, Berryman & Henigar surveyors made a recommendation to change the project boundary. Since much of the boundary was internal to a single owner there was no great benefit for it to follow section lines. A timber road ran near the western boundary of the Upper Wacissa Tract and it could become the acquisition boundary.

After the surveyors met with the Division of State Lands, The Nature Conservancy, St. Joe Timberland, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, consensus was reached and a boundary modification was formally presented and approved. The State would take title to the road and St. Joe would be given an easement to allow them to use it for future timber operations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would have a good manageable boundary and the Division of State Lands would experience significant cost savings on the survey. It was a true win-win solution and the method has been used on several other projects, including the recent Bald Point State Park Addition managed by the DEP Division of Recreation and Parks.

Some boundaries with other owners could not be changed and extensive retracement and other boundary work was required. Many miles of river swamp and coastal marsh were surveyed with a combination of GPS and conventional traverses. Days were spent clearing brush and searching for corner evidence in remote locations. Fortunately for the field surveyors, 2000 and 2001 were dry years in north Florida and wading was reserved to the deeper swamps and sloughs except in the tidal areas.

Encounters with moccasins and rattlesnakes were daily occurrences and occasional alligator sightings were not uncommon. The mosquitoes, redbugs, and ticks were a constant annoyance but the yellow jackets and wasps were a greater threat. The Berryman & Henigar field crews faced obstacles throughout these project surveys but in the past four years the greatest loss of equipment has been an overturned airboat and the greatest injury has been a wasp sting to the eye.

In early 2000, an addition was proposed for a boundary amendment in Taylor County. An additional 2,230 acres could be added to the Snipe Island Tract and the addition needed to be added to the appraisal area. Since the State had not yet formally approved of the addition, The Nature Conservancy contracted with Berryman & Henigar to map the addition to keep the whole Snipe Island Tract on schedule. The map included land in the original boundary and proposed for addition and complemented the original Big Bend Tract maps (now known as Snipe Island).

During the wetlands delineation of this area the ecologists encountered a mosaic of uplands and wetlands that was so intertwined that a signature could not be distinguished on the aerial photography. Rather than proposing a costly field survey of the jurisdictional wetlands lines, Berryman & Henigar's surveyors met with the Division of State Lands review appraisers and suggested adding a category of "Hydric Hammock" to the land classification for appraisal. This category would list uplands and jurisdictional wetlands by percentage of total area rather than mapping out the sinuous changes in soils, vegetation, and hydrology. The Bureau of Appraisal agreed that this would be sufficient for a determination of fair market value and a new category of value was introduced. This category was also used on the revised maps of the original Big Bend Tract.

In June 2000, an Option Agreement was executed on the Upper Wacissa Tract and the project became focused on a Boundary Survey for acquisition of this tract. The tract covered more than six miles of river frontage, much of it on both sides, and included land surrounding the spring run of Big Blue Springs.

The priorities shifted to acquisition issues identified in the Boundary Evidence Report and acquisition boundaries with management line marking. There were three inholdings west of the river without access easements and the portion east of the river depended on timber roads across the parent tract for access. Miles of timber roads were surveyed by Berryman & Henigar surveyors to address the access issues of the inholdings, the acquisition tract, and the timber road reservations by St. Joe. Additionally, the descriptions of the inholdings could not be supported by retracement surveys of the original GLO surveys.

Descriptions were prepared of the boundaries of the inholding tracts actually in possession of the owners and the boundaries were fixed by boundary line agreements to avoid future conflicts. The boundary issues were disclosed by the surveyors and resolved well before the closing date. The final survey was submitted in August for a September closing and the final area was 8,865 acres, compared to 8,840 acres on the appraisal map. The closing within one week of the Trustees' acceptance of the Option Agreement was unprecedented on a tract of this size and complexity.

The State formally approved the Snipe Island Tract additions proposed by The Nature Conservancy in September 2000 and the completion of a Boundary Survey of the entire tract became the new priority in October. Adjustments were made to the project boundary survey requirements on interior boundaries to prevent unnecessary work and special provisions were made for management lines common with St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge.

Among the challenges on this tract were roads maintained by Taylor County. There was no map or conveyance of right-of-way and the limits of maintenance could be considered a property line. After meetings with the Taylor County Road Department and St. Joe representatives, it was agreed that the county would accept a deed establishing a fixed right of way width for the roads in their maintenance system. The resulted in cost savings on the survey by making it unnecessary to survey the irregular lines of maintenance. The Snipe Island Tract survey was submitted in March 2001 and another 10,690 acres were added to State ownership in the project.

With the two priority acquisition surveys finished, the remainder of the project was completed under the original scope for the appraisal map and controlling land corners survey of all remaining parcels. This survey of 3,725 acres was submitted in May 2001 and included additional Mean High Water line survey work along the tidal portions of the Aucilla River.

Later in 2001, additional St. Joe lands were added to the Wacissa/Aucilla River Sinks—St. Joe Timberlands Florida Forever project and appraisal mapping began in November on these new additions. Boundaries were protracted on available digital photography based on survey information from the previous surveys and maps of four parcels were submitted in February 2002. The combined area of these four parcels was 29,025 acres.

During the appraisal process it was determined that wetlands areas would need to be determined for two of the sites and 10,475 acres of the mapping was revised to add the delineation of jurisdictional areas. A portion of this area fell in another water management district than previous efforts and slightly different rules and methods were employed. Additionally, portions of the new additions mapping included preparation of timber stand maps based on information provided by St. Joe to aid in a determination of timber value.

The surveys of two of the large addition tracts began in January 2003. It was important to St. Joe that one of the tracts be closed in the first quarter of the year and the second closed in the second quarter. The survey of the first tract, containing 13,920 acres was completed and submitted within 45 days. The previous work in the project allowed the survey to be customized to avoid repetitive work. The road boundary in the Upper Wacissa Tract Survey became an internal line of State lands and was not resurveyed. Much of the boundary of this addition was along public roads, greatly reducing the complexities of retracement.

The second phase of the survey was much more complex. Along with road boundaries, there were also common boundaries with other landowners. To further complicate this survey work, heavy rains had flooded much of the area. It became necessary to walk in and out of the river swamp each day to complete the field work. The title work revealed a historic railroad bed and a small tract within the boundary.

By working closely with the attorneys and title company, these issues were resolved. The surveyors met with the Property Appraiser and local residents and were able show, based on testimony of heirs, that the small tract had an erroneous legal description and was actually in another part of the section. Another maintained road was encountered and this time an agreement was reached where Jefferson County would accept a deed to the road and disclaim small areas outside of the deeded right-of-way in exchange for easements to maintain drainage ditches for short distances into the woods. The 4,690-acre survey was completed on time and closed in the second quarter.

Since these large tract acquisition surveys, Berryman & Henigar has mapped some additional small tracts of a new addition near the head springs of the Wacissa and is currently working on a survey of one of these tracts. Since the tracts were much smaller and there was no existing "Safe Line" mapping, additional detail was necessary to map the Ordinary High Water Mark of the river in the area of the springs. Along with the essential springs protection tracts, the next goal is to survey the 10,210 "Flint Rock" tract mapped in 2002 that will provide additional connections to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Florida National Scenic Trail.

Return to: 2004 Feature Stories