Kent’s city land surveyor is precise about his work

Terry Johnson often knows before most people about upcoming city construction projects in Kent because he’s part of the city’s land-surveying crew. As such, he’s often right in the center of it all, helping to map the sites out.

City of Kent surveyor Terry Johnson calibrates his instrument while surveying off Clark Lake Park Sept. 3.

City of Kent surveyor Terry Johnson calibrates his instrument while surveying off Clark Lake Park Sept. 3.

Terry Johnson often knows before most people about upcoming city construction projects in Kent because he’s part of the city’s land-surveying crew. As such, he’s often right in the center of it all, helping to map the sites out.

As a land survey assistant party chief, Johnson and the rest of the four-man crew take measuring and mapping tools to the streets each day to help prepare for design and construction of city sidewalks, streets, sewers, bridges and event centers.

“We’re usually the first ones in and the last ones out,” said Johnson in an interview Sept. 2 at his public works department office in the Centennial Center.

Johnson takes his global positioning system, tripods, data collector computer and old-fashioned notebooks to sites around the city to produce topographic maps before and after projects. Those maps give city designers and engineers the information they need to construct a street, bridge or building. The crew also stakes the boundary lines for the projects.

Johnson, 52, is in his sixth year with the city after working more than two dozen years as a land surveyor with a private company.

“You’re outside all of the time,” Johnson said about what he likes about his job. “And it’s not super hard. But you do have hard days and easier days.”

It might not be the hardest city job, but it certainly needs to be done accurately.

Steve Merryman, superintendent of the land survey crew, said Johnson’s years of experience help make sure the maps are accurate so plans do not have to be changed later.

“Thirty years of experience is priceless,” Merryman said of Johnson.

One part of Johnson’s job is helping to determine where the city constructs sewer lines. There has to be a slight fall in a sewer system in order for the sewage to flow. That means the elevation measurements must be exact.

“A fraction of an inch is critical in a sewer run,” Merryman said. “That’s why you do not have sewers backing up. If a measurement is off by an inch that could be critical to a sewer not flowing.”

The survey crew also staked and mapped the South 228th Street corridor so a new bridge could be built over the Green River between the West Hill and the Valley. That project involved determining where the bridge could go, how many trees needed to be cleared and the exact elevation climb up the hill.

One of the tools of the trade Johnson uses is a global position system tool to calculate distances. The receiver transmits signals to a data collector. That data collector is then plugged into a computer back in the office and software converts the data into precise measurements.

“We don’t have to go through blackberries, we just shoot around them,” said Johnson, who started out in the survey field using a chain to mark off distances.

Johnson, who grew up in Federal Way, learned land surveying skills on the job. When new equipment comes along, he learns how to use those tools as well, even if he has doubts at first.

“He has so much experience, he tends to fall back on the old ways of doing things,” Merryman said. “If he can use a paper and pencil, he figures why does he have to plug in a calculator.”

Outside of work, Johnson, who has been married for 22 years, enjoys playing guitar at his Auburn home. He took up guitar at age 15. Johnson, who has no children, also works on cars. He said he stays away from working on cars of friends because he only does it as a fun hobby.

When asked about future city land survey projects, Johnson rattled off a lengthy list that includes the 72nd Street extension south of South 196th Street, the extension of South 228th Street up the East Hill, railroad grade separations on South 228th, South 212th and Willis Street, sidewalk improvements downtown, a sewer system for North Park and construction of the city’s East Hill maintenance shops.

The land-survey crew also helped prepare for the levee repairs underway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along the Green River by the Riverbend Golf Course.

“We did the topographic maps so they could see how high the levee is and where it needs to be,” Johnson said.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.


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