For the first time since James Madison was president, surveyors have finished demarcating the border between North Carolina and South Carolina. Now, the two states are trying to deal with the repercussions of that knowledge.
In 1735, surveyors used magnetic compasses and a 65-foot chain to begin measuring the line between South Carolina and North Carolina. They got from the coast to Richmond County, marking trees with a knife to signify the boundary. Other sets of surveyors would continue the job, finishing in 1815. That was the last time the entire borders of the two states were set out.
“Our job is to walk in their footsteps,” says Sid Miller, the South Carolina chairman of the Joint North Carolina and South Carolina Boundary Commission. For the past two decades, he has helped head up the state effort to rediscover those lines.
“We haven’t changed the line,” says Miller. “What we’ve done is we’ve reconstructed the original line that was set down in the original survey started in 1735.”
In the nearly 300 years since, the branded trees died or were cut down, housing and businesses moved in on the border, and it hasn’t always been clear where the line is. The commission and its staff finished the technical work of remapping in May, and Miller says the estimated line was rarely off by more than 50 feet. But it has created a mess for a few households and businesses who suddenly find themselves part of a different state.
“We will be put out of business,” says Lewis Efird, who bought a gas station just across the border in what he thought was South Carolina in the early 1990s. Once the state legislatures approve the remapped boundary, the station will be in Gaston County, where it cannot sell beer, the gas tax is 22 cents higher, and the station’s fuel tanks may violate regulations.
“I try not to be a pest and I say, ‘Guys, I’m willing to work and listen to any solutions we can come up with,’ but I don’t hear a whole lot of solutions,” says Efird. “They just seem to want to say ‘well, we’re not changing the state line, we’re just reestablishing it.’”
Efird’s business is in probably the trickiest position, but households will also face changing taxes and find themselves in different school districts. Miller says the two states do not have the authority to move their boundaries to accommodate even the few affected, because that would require federal involvement. The commission has to avoid that, he says, while finding a solution for Efird and the others.
“The solution is to pass legislation to alleviate the impact to those people,” Miller says. “In other words, we don’t want anyone to be saddled with any back taxes.”
With the technical work out of the way, the commission will meet today to discuss these issues. Miller says the plan is to allow families to stay in their school districts. As for Efird and his gas station—Miller acknowledges the problem, but says no one knows how to fix it yet.