RE: General Assembly of PA – HOUSE BILL No. 609
DATE: May 24, 2021
BY: J. Todd Henwood, PLS
It has come to my attention that there is a growing concern from my GIS and drone mapping colleagues in the mapping industry regarding Pennsylvania House Bill No. 609. The bill, is in the Senate now, and passed the House of Representatives on May 04th, 2021 by an overwhelming vote of 197-4, amends parts of the act of May 23, 1945 (P.L. 913, No. 367) entitled:
“An act relating to and regulating the practice of the profession of engineering, including civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, mining engineering and chemical engineering, the profession of land surveying and the profession of geology and constituent parts and combinations thereof as herein defined; providing for the licensing and registration of persons practicing said profession, and the certification of engineers-in-training and surveyors-in-training, and the suspension and revocation of said licenses, registrations and certifications for violation of this act; prescribing the powers and duties of the State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land
Surveyors and Geologists, the Department of State and the courts; prescribing penalties; and repealing existing laws.“
Furthermore, the bill lends to add clarity to matters stemming from the “Davey Resources (“DRG”) vs. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, The State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists (“the Board”), which brought to question whether or not Professional Surveying licensure was required by DRG to field locate and inventory their client’s assets using mapping-grade GPS technologies in order to provide their client with a Geographic Information System (GIS) data base of their field assets.
In that case, the Board found that DRG’s field staff, unlicensed under PA Law, used GPS/GIS equipment, mathematical calculations, and other tools to search, identify and locate the geographic and x-y coordinates of their client’s assets on the Earth’s surface. By current definition, the Board determined that this was indeed surveying, and DRG was ordered to cease and desist.
DRG appealed to the PA Supreme Court, and the Court overturned the ruling, but the ruling was not unanimous. In summary, the Court said that if a map is produced for the purpose of engineer design or reflects property lines, the Professional Survey licensure is must. However, the ruling left some ambiguities in the law and HB609 looks to clarify definitions such as “engineering land survey” and aims to provide more comprehensive language to the licensure requirements. The bill makes clear that the practice of engineering and surveying can occur even if there is not a “design” per se. The bill also updates a number of other issues in the Registration Act bringing Pennsylvania more in step with other states.
What jumped out at me in HB609 (and that I am a fan of) were the recurring use of the words “AUTHORITATIVE” and “DEFINITIVE” when it comes to mapping products and deliverables. Although the advancements in data collection (e.g. drones, hand-held GPS) and mapping technologies (e.g. Pix4D) have advanced to the point where just about anyone can make a map, those two words are key to guiding the public and protecting their welfare as we in the surveying profession have sworn to uphold.
These advancements allow a non-licensed drone pilot to generate a contour map and show improvements on a drawing. Couple this information with a cadastral map created by a GIS professional, and you will see what looks like a very complete and comprehensive “survey”. But is it? What makes a comprehensive survey? Well, in my opinion, the language in HB609 tells us.
Is the map authoritative? In other words, can the user “bank on” the information shown on the drawing? Is the building 10-feet from the property line or 25-feet from the set-back line? Is the information on the drawing authoritative, in that, can the user plan, or have an engineering design, improvements based on this map? Yes, they can. BUT, if those actual “surveyed distances” are 8.5-feet or 22.5-feet from said lines, encroachment issues will arise. If the design gets constructed based on these non-authoritative maps, who will the owner/user of the maps hold accountable? The drone pilots? What about the GISP who brought their linework in from the county database? Not likely as they are not licensed to generate AUTHORITATIVE and DEFINITIVE maps thereby leaving the owner/user left holding the bag.
Eye-bot Aerial Solutions (Eye-bot), along with myself, and the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors (PSLS), support, and have endorsed HB609. It will protect the public welfare by lending credence to authoritative and definitive maps. I’m all for my drone pilot and GIS colleagues to continue to make their maps, but if it was not produced under the direct supervision of a Licensed Surveyor, then it should say so. If it is not authoritative or definitive, then it should say so and the owner/user should use it at their own risk.
Eye-bot delivers authoritative and definitive mapping data as a core competency. I apply my 35 years of surveying knowledge, experience, and discipline within the drone-centric organization that is Eye-bot. We believe this to be a key differentiator as the industry, mapping technology, products and services, and client deliverables evolve.
J. Todd Henwood, PLS
Survey and Geospatial Lead
Eye-bot Aerial Solutions