The Joint Boundary Commission between the states met again Friday in Monroe, some 20 years after surveyors first set out to use modern techniques to pin down a 334-mile state line that was first set by a decree from the king of England while the Carolinas were still colonies.
With the line finished, commissioners are now trying to put together a series of bills to go before the General Assemblies in both states next year to allow people who suddenly find themselves in a different state to keep their utilities, stay in the same schools and not have to pay back taxes to their new Carolina home. They hope those bills will help the North Carolina Council of State and the South Carolina General Assembly approve the new state line.
There are some things the commission can’t do. The people who find themselves in a new state will have to get new drivers’ licenses and register to vote in their new state. However, if their house is split by the state line, they can usually choose where they reside.
Only about 90 properties and 50 residences in states with a combined population of more than 14 million people will find themselves with a new address. Almost all of those properties are between the mountains in the Charlotte area.
But just one lawsuit could upset two decades of work. In the 1970s and 1980s, Georgia and South Carolina fought over islands created by dredge sand in the Savannah River and spent millions of dollars.
Nearly an hour of the meeting was spent discussing one business. The Lake Wylie Minimarket is currently in South Carolina, so it sells fireworks, beer and gas that are about 30 cents cheaper than in North Carolina. But the state line is moving about 90 feet south and the gas station will soon be in North Carolina.
To draw a notch in the state line keeping the station in South Carolina would require an act of Congress, because it would alter the actual legal description of the border, something the commission is trying to avoid. The owner of the station wants to figure out a way he can grandfather his ability to sell fireworks, beer and cheaper gas or be compensated for his loss of income, said attorney Charles Marshall, who is representing the store.
“We just want to figure out what’s the best way to do this without making a federal case out of it, so to speak,” Marshall said.
Redrawing the state line has taken painstaking historical work. Most of it was drawn in the 1700s, when surveyors used poles and measured in chain lengths, determining what direction to head based on the sun and doing math in their heads. Most of the time the workers marked trees that are long since gone. This survey was done with satellites and GPS and permanent, buried markers. It also required years of looking at old maps, trying to recreate the work of the old surveys.
“We just tried to follow in the steps of the original surveyors,” said Sidney Miller, who helped lead the survey for South Carolina.
The states are trying to work with their other neighbors too. South Carolina’s border with Georgia should be an easier fix because it is the center of the Tugaloo, Chattooga and Savannah rivers. But Georgia hasn’t answered letters from Miller.
North Carolina surveyors have a lot more work to do. The state has approached Virginia to clarify the border between those states and will move on to Tennessee and Georgia, said Gary Thompson, section chief of the North Carolina Geodetic Survey and the man in charge of his state’s efforts to re-draw the state line.
“The longer we wait, the more these areas build up,” Thompson said. “If we had done this 20 or 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have so many problems.”