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Road Services - Survey monuments

Protect survey monuments — it’s the law and it saves money

›› Monument repair form

The Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors sent out a letter from which a portion is as follows:

“Citizens of Washington have invested in property boundaries and survey monumentation since before Statehood. These monuments are not only important to delineate public and private ownership; they are critical. However, property corners and survey monuments are often endangered, and in many cases destroyed, by road and utility construction and maintenance. In 1969 RCW 58.24.040(8) initiated a process to protect these monuments assets and responsibility was assigned to a variety of governmental and professional people. Employees of government agencies responsible for the work must take the lead in following this law and thereby protect these monuments.”

The King County Survey Unit is proactive in the preservation of monuments having developed a monumentation preservation program to assure compliance with all applicable State Law to assist private surveyors and the citizens of King County in recovery and preservation of monuments which control the locations of property lines, easements and road rights of way.

Survey monuments — different shapes, sizes and materials

A survey monument can control the location of private or public property lines. Many monuments are referred to in property deeds and unless protected, could result in unnecessary costs to the landowner. It is important to be able to identify and protect survey monuments. Every survey of a conveyance of land must start from evidence that proves the position of at least two survey monuments are somehow related to the written record. It is important to understand that only original monuments control a conveyance location. In resurveying a tract of land according to a former plat or survey, the surveyor’s function is to relocate, upon the best available evidence, the corners and lines at the same place originally located. In some cases disputed lines will follow if a monument has been disturbed.

A monument size can range from a small tack in a lead plug in concrete to a large house size boulder, a 200- year old Douglas Fir tree, the center of a river, or the crest of a mountain range. Monuments can be either a natural material or man made. If you like detective or mystery stories, then you probably will appreciate the collection of evidence that is often necessary to identify monuments. The five W’s & How:

  • Who set the monument?
  • What type of monument did they set or use?
  • When did they set the monument?
  • Where did they set the monument?
  • Why did they set the monument and how?
Can you tell the difference?

The picture below shows a brass disk stamped per procedures and specifications used by the National Geodetic Survey for station “Star 3” set in concrete in 1982. Attached within this document there is a chapter with NGS types of disks and their stampings.

Brass disk stamped per procedures and specifications used by the National Geodetic Survey for station Star 3 set in concrete in 1982.

Many of the W’s are answered when the monuments have markings: Who, What sometimes, and When. The General Land Office (GLO) has had rules and guidelines for marking corners for over 100 years. Also attached in this document is the Monumentation Chapter (2MB .pdf) from the Manual of Surveying Instructions 1973, which is recited in the RCW’s and WAC’s as the method for marking the Public Land Survey System Corners.

RCW 58.09.120 Monuments — requirements

Any monument set by a land surveyor to mark or reference a point on a property or land line shall be permanently marked or tagged with the certificate number of the land surveyor setting it. If a public officer sets the monument, it shall be marked by an appropriate official designation.

Monuments set by a land surveyor shall be sufficient in number and durability and shall be efficiently placed so as not to be readily disturbed in order to assure, together with monuments already existing, the perpetuation or reestablishment of any point or line of a survey. [1973 c 50 § 12.]

Looking up a Professional Land Surveyors number. WAC 332-130-030 External link graphic

Land subdivision and corner restoration standards — recording

(1) The reestablishment of lost GLO or BLM corners and the subdividing of sections shall be done according to applicable GLO or BLM plats and field notes and in compliance with the rules as set forth in the appropriate GLO or BLM Manual of Surveying Instructions, manual supplements and circulars. Federal or state court decisions that influence the interpretation of the rules should be considered. Methods used for such corner reestablishment or section subdivision shall be described on the survey map produced.

(4) Every corner originally monumented by the GLO or BLM that is physically reestablished shall be monumented in accordance with the Survey Recording Act. If the reestablished corner is not filed or recorded as part of a record of survey, plat or short plat, at least three references shall be established and filed or recorded on a Land Corner Record Form. If the reestablished corner is filed or recorded as part of a record of survey, plat or short plat, then ties to at least two other monuments shown on the record document may serve in lieu of the required references. A valid set of coordinates on the Washington coordinate system may serve as one of the references. However, to best ensure an accurate relocation, references in close proximity to the corner are recommended. Monuments placed shall be magnetically locatable and include a cap stamped with the appropriate corner designation as defined in the current BLM Manual of Surveying Instructions.

Nails, tacks, caps

Typically in urban or areas with a lot of concrete roadways and sidewalks, a small hole is drilled into the concrete, a lead plug is pounded into the drill hole and a small tack is set in the lead as shown below. No matter how small and how hard it is to find a tack & lead in concrete, its size does not degrade its significance.

Small tack in concrete.

For centuries, stones scribed with markings have been set and used as monuments. In fact, the initial starting point for all Public Land Survey System (PLSS) corners in Washington and Oregon is a stone, the Willamette Stone.

Actually the initial marker was a Red Cedar stake set in 1851 by John B. Preston, the First Surveyor General of the Oregon Territory. On July 25, 1885 the stake was replaced by a stone obelisk with the words marked “base” and “line” on two sides of the stone and marked with “will” and “mer” on the other two sides. The stone was vandalized in the 1980’s and currently is replaced with the disk shown below.

Willamette Meridian disk.

The following picture shows a 1 3/4" brass disk that was used during the 1930 Federal Works Program Administrative (WPA) paving projects such Auburn-Black Diamond Road and Woodinville-Duvall Road. Finding a specific style monument can be used as collateral evidence to prove its authenticity.

1 3/4 inch brass disk used during the 1930 Federal Works�D;�A;Program Administrative paving projects.

The next picture below shows an old cedar hub with finishing nail set on a 1960 re-alignment survey of a portion of the Covington-Lake Sawyer Rd. The same type of monument was found on at other locations as noted in the field notes of the survey. Too often, field notes, maps, etc. fail to provide specific details about the monumentation that was set or found. Just like a Title searches provides a chain of title, record information and other documentation should build a chain of history for the position of a corner containing what was found, when and the other “W’s”.

Old cedar hub with finishing nail set on a 1960 realignment survey of a portion of the Covington-Lake Sawyer Road.

Today there are manufacturers of survey markers such as Surv-Kap and Berntsen which have different products for various applications. These and other manufacturers have on-line catalogs that one can refer to for more information that may not be presented herein.

What has been used for survey markers is quite a diverse list: iron pipe, iron rods, car parts such as axels, railroad rails, bed parts, railroad spikes, nails, tacks, brass disks, aluminum disks and caps, plastic caps on rebars, stones, trees, wood stakes, cedar post, rock cairns (pile of rocks), tacks in lead, stainless steel rods, etc.

Additions to this list with non-copyrighted photographs are welcomed. Please send us your monument picture with a description via e-mail.

Left:  A variety of brass and aluminum disks for setting in rock or concrete.  Right: A typical road centerline concrete monument with brass disk that you find inside the following sidecases shown below.

Monument removal permits

A permit is required to remove or destroy a survey monument. For more information contact John Gasche at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources by e-mail at or by phone at 360-902-1230.

Permit applications can also be downloaded from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Web site. External link.

Survey monument repair

The King County Survey Unit welcomes all requests made by citizens or private surveying firms to recover buried monuments, repair broken monument cases, or answer questions concerning missing or destroyed monuments lying within any King County road right of way.

Road crew worker drilling street.

Monument repair request form

To request repairs to a survey monument located in unincorporated King County, please use our Monument Maintenance Request form.

Your help is necessary if we are to protect these monuments. Holes dug in our paved roads by private surveyors or citizens to access these monuments should be reported. The Survey Unit will repair and encase any monument upon request to eliminate the repeated cost of digging through pavement. The Survey Unit is staffed and equipped as shown to efficiently repair monuments.

If the monument needing repair is within the corporate limits of a city, you should contact the responsible department for that Municipality. If you are uncertain as to where the corporate limits are, click here to use i-MAP, the King County GIS Center application that allows you to view King County spatial information (GIS data and images) in a map display that you control.

Contact information for survey monument repair in contract cities:

City Public Works Department Phone
City of Burien 206-248-5521
City of Covington 253-638-1110
City of Duvall 425-788-3434
City of Enumclaw 360-825-3593
City of Kenmore 425-398-8900
City of Lake Forest Park 206-368-5440
City of Maple Valley 425-413-8800
City of Newcastle 425-649-4444 ext. 124
City of North Bend 425-888-0486 ext. 7650
City of Sammamish 425-295-0570
City of SeaTac 206-973-4741
City of Shoreline 206-801-2400
City of Woodinville 425-489-2700

The King County Survey Unit has partnerships with various cities to provide surveying services. Please visit our Contract City Services website to learn more.

Monument protection laws

What is monument destruction?

WAC 332-120-020   Definitions.  The following definitions shall apply to this chapter:

Removal or destruction: The physical disturbance or covering of a monument such that the survey point is no longer visible or readily accessible.

Who is responsible to protect monuments?

WAC 332-120-030   Applicability.  (1) No survey monument shall be removed or destroyed before a permit is obtained as required by this chapter.

(2) Any person, corporation, association, department, or subdivision of the state, county or municipality responsible for an activity that may cause a survey monument to be removed or destroyed shall be responsible for ensuring that the original survey point is perpetuated. It shall be the responsibility of the governmental agency or others performing construction work or other activity (including road or street resurfacing projects) to adequately search the records and the physical area of the proposed construction work or other activity for the purpose of locating and referencing any known or existing survey monuments.

To learn more visit the Washington Administrative Code Web site. External link.

What about monuments disturbed during construction activites?

RCW 58.09.130 Monuments disturbed by construction activities -- Procedure -- Requirements. When adequate records exist as to the location of subdivision, tract, street, or highway monuments, such monuments shall be located and referenced by or under the direction of a land surveyor at the time when streets or highways are reconstructed or relocated, or when other construction or activity affects their perpetuation. Whenever practical a suitable monument shall be reset in the surface of the new construction. In all other cases permanent witness monuments shall be set to perpetuate the location of preexisting monuments. Additionally, sufficient controlling monuments shall be retained or replaced in their original positions to enable land lines, property corners, elevations and tract boundaries to be reestablished without requiring surveys originating from monuments other than the ones disturbed by the current construction or activity.

It shall be the responsibility of the governmental agency or others performing construction work or other activity to provide for the monumentation required by this section. It shall be the duty of every land surveyor to cooperate with such governmental agency or other person in matters of maps, field notes, and other pertinent records. Monuments set to mark the limiting lines of highways, roads, or streets shall not be deemed adequate for this purpose unless specifically noted on the records of the improvement works with direct ties in bearing or azimuth and distance between those and other monuments of record. [1973 c 50 § 13.]

To learn more visit the Revised Code of Washington Web site. External link.

Information from the Road Services Division's website is available to people with disabilities in alternate formats upon request by calling 206-477-3839 or 711 for the TTY relay service.

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