Boundary line agreements concerning properties on Lake Greenwood have been a bit of a sore spot for both property owners and county officials, particularly of late. Many people feel the county is taking property from citizens. County officials, who have no interest at stake, feel they are doing their jobs.
Greenwood County Council will be holding a public hearing on the matter at their next meeting. The meeting will be held in the Veteran’s Auditorium at the Greenwood County Library at 5:30 p.m. on March 19.
Lake Greenwood was created in the 1930s by the construction of the Buzzards Roost Dam. At that time, property values were about $1.50 per acre. Greenwood County purchased property around the lake from citizens for $15 per acre. The boundary of the property around the lake, for the most part, is source of contention – and confusion.
Larry Smith, county engineer for Greenwood County, says that the county purchased the property around the lake to what is known as the “440,” a reference to 440 feet above sea level. Smith says that label is a misnomer, as the county actually purchased to a surveyed line within the given tolerances of the day. That line became known as the project boundary. The original plats, originally drawn up in 1938, are recorded in Washington, D.C., by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.
One of the sources of contention comes when a property owner seeks a boundary line agreement and discovers that part of what they believe to be their property falls inside the project boundary according to the original plats. Smith says that South Carolina law identifies ownership by the original plat, but that state law also says taxes are assessed based on the most recent plat. This has the unintended effect of property owners paying taxes on land they do not actually own.
Another source of contention arises out of the standards of accuracy in the 1930s compared to the standards of today. While the tolerance in the 1930s was about 10 feet, according to Smith, the tolerance today is about 10 inches. So Smith takes the original plat and overlays the overhead view from the geographical information system, or GIS, website in a computer-aided drafting program. He aligns a known point on both diagrams and then aligns them to see where the boundary line falls.
Smith says that many people believe that the actual surveying was never done in 1938 and that the project boundary was simply drawn up “around a fireplace.” Smith says that he has the original field books that surveyors used when they were out surveying. Smith says that, in 1938, surveyors took a reading about every 10 feet while today’s surveyors take a reading about every 10 inches. The reason, Smith says, is simple – the properties are worth far more money today.
Many lakefront property owners believe that their properties are no longer “lakefront.” Smith says that a property is considered to be a lakefront property if it borders the project boundary. Where the water actually comes to on the property is of no relevance to the property being deemed lakefront or not. Smith also says that property owners have full use of the lake, including building piers, without having a boundary line agreement. The boundary line agreement serves to give certainty to where the boundary actually lies, according to Smith.
Where boundary line agreements get Tricky, Smith says, is when property owners want to own the land they believed to be theirs. Smith says that there a number of cases where a former property owner built a seawall out into the lake and then backfilled to the wall to create property. According to Smith, that does not change where the actual project boundary is located. It does create problems, however, when a property owner was told he or she owned the piece of property all the way to the lake or seawall.
Smith says there is no simple solution, but that he strives to be fair to both the property owner and the taxpayers of Greenwood County. The public hearing will be open next Tuesday for the citizens of Greenwood County to voice their opinion on the matter.