Elected in 2006, Brian Keen is the Fulton County Surveyor and owner of Keen Surveying in Salem. The position is unpaid and has no benefits, but Keen has filed again for the position.
"I am here to assist county officials in any survey matter they may have or answer any questions. If the county has a project coming up, I would help them with the bidding if they asked. You have to be a registered surveyor to run for county surveyor and I am really about the only survey business in the county," Keen said.
"Basically, when you buy a piece of property you get a deed and it is our job to put that deed on the ground. We establish where property lines are, establish new ones and relocate old ones. We go out and do topographic work where we get the lay of the land. We work with those who have a new building project, like when they build a new hospital, a surveyor goes in and lays out all the building's corners. We do some geo-data work with GPS (global positioning system) but it doesn't really come into play up here. That is more in larger cities," he said.
Keen said another helpful program is the Geographical Information Systems (GIS).
According to Keen, the GIS system allows a surveyor to view aerial photographs of an area. The surveyor can then look at individual houses and view information about them such as owner, deed information and all the property information. "It is a database with a map behind it really. It is used mostly by county government," Keen said.
Fulton County was originally surveyed by the GLO (General Land Office), which is now the Bureau of Land Management, in the mid to late 1800s, according to Keen.
There are some pieces of property that have not been surveyed since then. The GLO would measure the land with a 66-foot-long piece of chain.
"You could imagine going through these woods and only getting $6 or $7 dollars a mile. Inherently, there was error in there. I try to explain to people, take a 66-foot piece of metal out there and measure something. Go measure again and see if you get the same answer," he said.
When people have their property reevaluated sometimes they have less land then they thought.
"You never know until you measure it. It could be short by 10 feet or long by 20. Sometimes people get upset, but you just have to be as cordial as you can and explain what has happened," Keen said.
Individuals who have more land after a survey are not complainers, according to Keen.
"They are always happy about that. Those are the people that don't have a problem paying," Keen laughed.
Land corners are marked with plastic and aluminum caps, but when the GLO first surveyed Fulton County they used a different method.
"When they did it in the 1800s they usually just used a mound of stones. Over the years they disappear but I have run across some before. In Izard County a guy set some and I read in the notes it was from 1901 and I found those," he said.
When Keen sets points he is required by law to file with the state surveyor's office and he also files with the county clerk.
According to Keen, to become a surveyor a person can have a two year degree focused in surveying or even receive a four year degree. After graduation a potential surveyor takes several tests and then becomes a licensed surveyor in training. From there you must work two years in responsible charge as a crew leader or similar position, before another round of tests. Then, after completing those requirements, a license is granted. In Arkansas however, you can still get a license with experience.
"Right now the way the tests are I recommend a person goes to school," he said.
Keen has hired Michio Sanders just out of surveying school to operate the surveying instruments.
Keen is married to Sarah Keen and has two children, Luke, 5, and Madeline, 2, with a baby on the way.
"I moved up here because of Sarah, my wife. Her maiden name is Benton and her dad was Dr. Benton who was a family doctor here in Salem for years. So, she grew up here," he said.
Keen has been in surveying for 13 years, held a license for seven years and has owned Keen Surveying for five years. "Everybody in Salem has been really helpful. The title companies, the courthouse and all of its employees have all been extremely helpful," he said.