Surveyor knows the lay of the land
November 19, 2013 1:06PM
Updated: December 21, 2013 6:07AM
“Township 31 North, Range 9 West. A great portion of this township is not prairie, or in other words, entirely a marsh. The whole township bears the aspect of that of the surrounding country interspersed with sand ridges which are dry, and denotes a country destitute of any inducement to invite the immigrant to locate there.”
— Samuel Goodnow, 1835
The above quote was surveyor Goodnow’s unflattering description of what would eventually become Lake Village in northern Newton County. I have no doubt ol’ Sam earned his money on that particular job.
Today, things aren’t quite so difficult for Tony Hendricks. He’s LaPorte County’s surveyor.
Hendricks, 44, lives in Michigan City with wife, Gina; they have two daughters, ages 9 and 6. He is a graduate of Michigan City Marquette High School and Purdue University, West Lafayette.
Our interview took place at the Hiler Building in downtown LaPorte.
“I’ve been surveying since I was 9,” Hendricks began. “My dad would pay me by the hour. Dad was the county surveyor back in the ‘70s.”
Do you have to be elected to get the job?
“Yes. It’s a four-year term. Every county in Indiana has its own surveyor. I was first elected in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. There are no term limits for county surveyors.”
Tell me about the job.
“County surveyors are responsible for the section corners of the State of Indiana. The surveyor makes sure those corners are where they were originally put in the 1830s.
“We’re also responsible for storm water drainage. As a county surveyor, I’m a member of the planning commission.”
You mentioned the 1830s.
“Once Indiana became a state it had to find a way to attract people to homestead the ground. The government split off the land in Indiana by the square mile. Every square mile has four corners. There are 640 acres in a section. The government sold them off as 60- or 80-acre farms.”
I know pioneers could purchase land for $1.25 per acre thanks to the Swampland Acts of the 1850s. It was said: “The Grand Kankakee Marsh is the only place where you can buy land by the gallon.” I can only imagine being a surveyor near the Kankakee River during the 1830s — what a nightmare.
“There’s a book entitled ‘The History of Surveying Indiana’ that mentions one of the government surveyors — a young guy — who went off across the swamp and got swallowed up in quicksand. They never found him. Those guys were a hardy bunch of people; they had it all — Indians, wild animals, wetlands, mosquitoes... .”
There had to have been some guesswork involved.
“That’s the problem. They weren’t as accurate as we are today. They might have been off hundreds and hundreds of feet. But it doesn’t matter, wherever they put it is where it has to stay. You can’t change it — ever.”
I’m sure the tools of the trade have become more advanced.
“Nowadays we have GPS. Our systems are accurate to within 3/4 of an inch. We also have robotic total station.”
“The instrument still sits on the tripod, but you don’t need a guy behind it anymore. It just follows you around. Technology is changing so fast we can’t hardly keep up.
“In Indiana, you don’t have to be a licensed professional surveyor. There aren’t that many of us who are licensed. It’s very difficult. It takes four years of college and then you need four years of experience. That’s just to be able to sit for the examination. The examination passing rate is about 30 percent.”
Are you licensed?
Sand and silt problems in the Kankakee and Yellow rivers?
“The silt trap in the Kankakee River north of the Yellow is doing its job. It’s 60 percent full over three years. In the Yellow River, those silt traps filled up in eight weeks.”
All that LaPorte and Starke county sand is wreaking havoc across the state line in Illinois. Their stretch of river — which was never channelized by the steam dredges — is disappearing. Solutions?
“We’d like to re-meander the river.”
By re-meander, you mean put the natural curves and oxbows back in those rivers the way they were before man made drainage ditches out of them 100 years ago.
There could be opposition.
“The farmers are scared that we’re going to fill in the Kankakee and Yellow rivers. I want to stress the fact that we are not going to take away today’s channelized rivers. And I understand that some of that ground is producing 350 bushels an acre. That’s a lot of food. People in the Middle Eastern countries would love to have our crops. We don’t want to ruin that by impacting the farmers’ fields. We’d actually be helping the farmer by taking some of the sand out of the river bottom.
“There are people in Starke County who claim there is 13 to 18 feet of sand in the bottom of the Yellow River. Some people say that in LaPorte County there is 5 to 8 feet of sand in the Kankakee River.”
Tell me more.
“We want the re-meanders to serve as a place for the sand to drop instead of going downstream. We’re hoping to try a pilot project maybe next year. The plan is to re-meander a 3,000 foot section.”
That’s a start. Let’s say the re-meandered segment of river works and stops the sand from heading for the state line. What are you going to do with all that sand?
“Use it for a construction project, sell it, use it on our roads during the winter... . Sand is used to make glass.
“Jeff, the Kankakee River isn’t meant strictly for agricultural purposes and it isn’t meant strictly for recreational purposes.”
Tony, do we have the technology to find the balance before the river in Illinois becomes known as the Kankakee Desert?
In the past, most county surveyors within the Kankakee River Basin were pretty much one-sided regarding the Kankakee and Yellow rivers — keep them straight as an arrow and runnin’ fast.
Some maps don’t even call the Kankakee River by its real name. In LaPorte County it’s known as the Place Ditch. In the areas where I grew up, the once serpentine stream is sometimes referred to as the Marble-Powers Ditch or the Williams Ditch. Not very romantic.
But there’s a new sheriff in town. He’s a guy who sees both sides of the equation and is bound and determined to find a solution to the sand and silt problems affecting our neighbors in Illinois.
Godspeed, Tony Hendricks.