South Carolina Residents Forced Into Interstate Commerce

April 4th, 2012

Well, that’s what happens when someone’s property on the border between North and South Carolina moves from South to North!

In an ambitious project, the states of North Carolina and South Carolina are trying to set the record straight. After years of historical research and old-fashioned survey work mixed with global positioning technology, they are moving the boundary back to where it belongs.

In some places, the boundary will not change at all. In others, the shift does not matter much. What’s a couple of hundred feet in the middle of the forest?

But for about 30 households and a gas station along the most populated part of the boundary, the consequences are big.

Judy Helms, for example, suddenly finds herself living in North Carolina. But her dog, who stays in the backyard, lives in South Carolina.

The state line now slices through the four acres she bought in 1979. That means she will probably have to change insurance and her driver’s license and pay North Carolina’s higher taxes, which could amount to several thousand dollars. She will have to vote for North Carolina politicians.

And how is she supposed to untangle the utilities? The well she and her husband use is now in North Carolina, but the power that pumps the water comes from a South Carolina electric company.

“This is like living in some kind of comic book serial,” said Mrs. Helms, 64, a retired nurse. “I just feel like I’m being kicked out of South Carolina. I’m being expelled.”’

The original survey was done in the 1700s!

The problems began, as they sometimes do, with the king of England, who ordered a survey of the two colonies in the 1700s. It was hard, long and imprecise work. Equipment was rudimentary. Surveyors marked the boundary as best they could by hatching notches into trees, sometimes giving up when the swamps and the panthers became too much.

Although other surveyors came behind them in ensuing years, the official boundary set in 1772 is what Mr. Miller and his counterpart in North Carolina, Gary Thompson, have been working together since the 1990s to re-establish.

They are part detectives, part geography geeks and part historians. And they are almost done. Out of the 335-mile-long border, they have gotten all of it but about 40 miles re-established. By the end of the year their work will be complete and their findings will be turned over to the legislatures in both states for ratification.