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County moves forward with updates to mapping system

Cook County Courthouse and government offices. WTIP file photo
Cook County Courthouse and government offices. WTIP file photo

Information was shared during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Feb. 12 regarding updates to the county’s Public Land Survey System. During the meeting, the board authorized the allocation of $20,000 from the county recorder’s unallocated fund for the PLSS upgrades.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Kyle Oberg, a GIS analyst for Cook County, about the updates to the PLSS system and what this means for local property owners.

The audio of their discussion is below. Also posted below is a statement Oberg sent WTIP explaining both the project and what PLSS is in the context of this conversation.

The statement reads as follows:

There are two major goals for this project:

  1. Improve the accuracy of our parcel mapping
  2. Provide the survey community with a single resource for accessing information about public land survey system (PLSS) corners.

To start, it’s important to have an understanding of the PLSS and its relationship to land ownership and how it’s represented on any map.

The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is the legal framework used to define land ownership. It’s a rectangular grid of surveys that divides land into nested areas called townships, sections, and smaller subsections. It’s dependent on a series of physical monuments (posts in the ground) marking the corners of these areas and controlling the boundary lines between them. Only licensed land surveyors can certify the location of a PLSS corner.

With this project we look to establish accurate corner information for our parcel fabric for the first time. This has been a key missing ingredient in our Geographic Information System (GIS) and we’re excited to start down the path of improving how we represent land ownership on our maps. It can be very confusing and frustrating when parcel lines drawn on a map don’t appear to line up with the underlying landscape when viewed over aerial imagery. It’s also challenging and time consuming to try and work to understand the relationship between mapped property boundaries and the improvements inside them like buildings, roads, wells, septic systems, trails, etc. This project will help us start to make adjustments in a controlled and meaningful way that will help reduce the amount of confusion with land records.

Additionally, this project will allow us to provide better customer service to the survey community in need of PLSS corner information to start the survey process. Again, all land ownership is tied to the PLSS system which is controlled by the corners.

When a surveyor reviews your recorded legal land description they need to locate the corner that connects it to the PLSS framework before they can physically locate and set pins at your property corners. So, the relationship between the PLSS framework and corners and land ownership is highly interconnected and very important.