State Border Battle Rages In Carolinas

fromWFAE

There's a border dispute brewing in the U.S., but it's not between with Canada or Mexico. It's a different north/south rivalry, between the Carolinas. Residents who live on the state line are upset at an effort to re-draw it. The states say they're not changing the line, just "clarifying it". But that's not how it seems to a few residents who liked the state they used to live in.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Here in the U.S., we tend to think of state borders as set in stone, but sometimes they can be ambiguous. Even today, there's still debates over where the lines fall. One decade ago, South and North Carolina set out to clarify their shared border, and they are still working it out. That effort has led to some unwelcome news for property owners as we hear from Julie Rose of member station WFAE in Charlotte.

JULIE ROSE, BYLINE: Way before there was GPS, years even before the Revolutionary War, surveyors on horseback drew the line between the colonies of North and South Carolina. Every mile or so, they made a slash on a tree and took notes - hickory here, chestnut there - standard practice for the time, but not so helpful in 2012.

ALEX RANKIN: We've worked the whole length of the survey, and to our knowledge, none of those trees exist 200 and almost 50 years later.

ROSE: Alex Rankin owns the Charlotte area engineering firm hired to help retrace the steps of those original boundary markers. The effort spans 334 miles from the Atlantic to the Appalachians and has cost the states nearly a million dollars. Without those original trees for guidance, Rankin's team turned to matching up the edges of historic property deeds.

RANKIN: What we're doing is simply discovering where the state line is. It is where it is.

ROSE: But that's certainly not how it feels to Karen Byrnes. Just look at the document she signed when she closed on her home and 5 acres in 2006.

KAREN BYRNES: You know, it clearly shows that our home is in York County. And so now, they're saying that the line has moved and now our house is in Mecklenburg County.

ROSE: York County is South Carolina. Mecklenburg is North Carolina.

BYRNES: We would not have purchased the home if it had been zoned Mecklenburg County or North Carolina.

ROSE: Byrnes prefers South Carolina's lower taxes and schools for her 9-year-old son. Rather than switch residency, she's listed her house for sale, even though she worries it will be worth less now that it's in North Carolina. State officials working to retrace the boundary say about 93 properties appear to have discrepancies, concentrated in the highly developed Charlotte region. Some, like the Byrnes family, suddenly find themselves in a different state, but most are like Natalie Everett.

NATALIE EVERETT: I have a South Carolina neighbor and a North Carolina neighbor.

ROSE: And she just found out the state line splits her house.

EVERETT: Yes. When I want to go stay out of state, I just go in the guest bedroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROSE: She can laugh because the change won't affect her residency, ZIP code or school district. Not so funny is the situation facing the Lake Wylie Mini Market.

EVERETT: There is basically just one reason why people come to this gas station.

VICTOR BOULWARE: Prices in North Carolina are way too high. Saves about $5 a tank, 30 cent a gallon.

EVERETT: I try to gas up in South Carolina or as close to the line as I can.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROSE: You can't get closer than this station, just a few feet inside South Carolina. Or that's what Victor Boulware thought when he bought the business in 1996. Now, he's told some surveyor made a mistake 100 years ago and his gas station is actually in North Carolina. That means his gas taxes will go up, and he'll have to stop selling fireworks.

BOULWARE: You would cut that business totally in half. If that turn that store to North Carolina, you'd have to shut it down.

ROSE: It's not really a matter of if. The states have no intention of changing their state line because that would require an act of Congress. But the debate is not over yet. A joint boundary commission of the states meets on Friday to talk about passing laws that will at least let people on the boundary stay in the same schools and avoid getting billed for back taxes. They've said nothing yet about letting Boulware pretend his gas station's still in South Carolina. For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose in Charlotte.

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