Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Indiana-Michigan border under scrutiny

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By EMILY LAWLER
Capital News Service

LANSING—Michigan and Indiana lawmakers are working together to draw a line in the sand.

The 110-mile border between the two states was last surveyed in 1827 and marked with wooden posts that have since deteriorated or been lost.

Indiana passed legislation to re-survey the boundary last spring, and now a bill proposed by Sen. Ron Jelinek, R–Three Oaks, would create a council with members from each state to oversee the survey and install permanent markers.

The bill’s other sponsors are Sens. Gerald Van Woerkom, R–Norton Shores, Thomas George, R–Kalamazoo, Patricia Birkholz, R–Saugatuck Township and Alan Cropsey, R–Dewitt.

The effects aren’t expected to be major – no Michiganians will find themselves Indiana residents and there will be no need for new license plates, for example.

What’s at stake is measured in feet and wouldn’t be large enough to impact entire properties or houses along the divide, according to Jessica Wortley, Jelinek’s communications director.

“We’re not talking acres. It’s literally a few feet on either side,” she said.

Norman Caldwell, recording secretary of a volunteer group of surveyors that’s  the driving force behind the legislation, said re-surveying and marking would take five years and cost each state $500,000 – or $1 million total.

“Over five years it’s $100,000 per year, and that’s really a drop in the bucket,” said Caldwell.

But with Michigan’s budget crisis, it’s arguable that “nothing” is a drop in the bucket.

“It got introduced in January, prior to the budget issues,” Wortley said of the bill, which doesn’t specify where the money would come from. “We don’t have a funding source, but we want to go ahead and establish an advisory committee.”

Caldwell said, “The federal government laid the line out and it was accepted as the northern boundary of Indiana” in 1816. “When Michigan became a state” in 1837, “they accepted the same line.”

Caldwell, a professional land surveyor in Owosso, said  the committee would find the original line, not draw a new one. “It’s staying exactly where the surveyor put it.”

But the border has been historically contentious, according to Michigan State University geography Professor Morris Thomas, who specializes in public land surveys.

“It was supposed to be 10 miles south, from the southern tip of Lake Michigan due east,” said Thomas.

That’s how it was drawn in the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, which designated about 260,000 square miles, including present-day Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin as the first official U.S. territory. But Indiana contested it then, according to Thomas.

“They moved it 10 miles north to have more water access. That’s why there’s that little jog in the line there,” said Thomas, referring to the notch by the Indiana-Ohio border.

But lawmakers are following the 1827 line and aim to determine exactly where that line is and mark it permanently.

Caldwell said none of the state’s other boundaries are in question.

“The Michigan-Ohio border and the Michigan-Wisconsin border were redone, so the Indiana one is the only one not brought up to current standards,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate and is awaiting action by the House.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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