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Conn.-R.I. Border Battle

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New technology spurs feud on Conn.-R.I. line

By Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff, 1/1/2004

HOPKINTON, R.I. -- Iva Crider has long been a proud Rhode Islander, living nearly all her 79 years in this rural village. She was the town's first female school bus driver, fed 13,000 chickens a day in her coops, and buried two sons and her husband in the backyard.

But now, the neighboring town of North Stonington, Conn., has mailed Crider a property tax bill for her ranch house. New mapping technology, North Stonington officials said, shows that Crider is not a Rhode Islander, but instead a resident of Connecticut.

"I like it right here in Rhode Island," Crider said. "Do they think we've been dumb for all these years?"

Whether Crider actually lives in Rhode Island will not be determined until commissions in the two states decide -- once and for all, many hope -- where the border lies between two former colonies that have been arguing about their boundaries since European settlers arrived.

"I never anticipated that I might have to go out there, walking in knee-high waders, along a boundary between two states," said Patrick C. Lynch, Rhode Island's attorney general.

The determination of North Stonington officials to mail property tax bills to Rhode Islanders has raised Lynch's hackles, prompted Hopkinton's assessor to make cross-border comparisons to the Hatfields and McCoys, and caused Crider to wonder where she will turn if Hopkinton police no longer patrol her secluded road.

Hopkinton's Town Hall, ambulance, and Post Office are all less than 2 miles from Crider, who uses a wheelchair. If her house is part of North Stonington, Crider said, the comparable services would be about a dozen miles away. "In Rhode Island, if I need them, they're right here," she said. Border spats have surfaced sporadically in the country, particularly in its older regions, where stone walls and hand-held surveying equipment determined the division of farm from farm and state from state. Maine and New Hampshire battled for years, all the way to the US Supreme Court, before the justices ruled in 2001 that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard lay within Maine's boundaries.

On Dec. 9, in a dispute nearly four centuries old, the Supreme Court ruled that the Potomac River does not belong solely to the state of Maryland and that Virginia could draw water from the river without permission. In Hopkinton, North Stonington's effort to take Rhode Island property should be viewed in simple, human terms, Lynch said.

"It's humorous at first blush, but it can deeply affect and injure a person's quality of life," Lynch said. "The bus route goes; utilities can change. It's the very essence of one's home. It's serious stuff."

But to Joyce Elias, the former North Stonington assessor who mailed out the tax bills in July, that is fodder for politicians to discuss. To her, the boundary is the boundary, and let the chips fall where they may.

"What's black is black, and what's white is white, and you have the way it is," said Elias, who now directs the town's mapping work.

"I'm a techie, and I deal with fact," she said. "Someone else needs to worry about the ramifications to people's lives."

Those ramifications affect about 40 properties and parts or all of eight residences, said Hopkinton assessor John D. Majeika.

The property tax transfer would be about $15,000 in North Stonington's favor on an additional 22.3 acres. In many cases, most involving vacant land, the line claimed by North Stonington is less than 60 feet farther east.

"It's not a huge amount of money, but they've taken away the rights of those people who want to live in Rhode Island," Majeika said. "We've lived with this border for an awful long time."

But longevity and comfort don't necessarily make it right, countered Elias, who said modern technology finally has given the states a chance to settle centuries-old differences. With low-level aerial photography, aided by satellite-targeted control points, North Stonington was able to draw a straight line between granite markers placed in the ground in 1840 during an official boundary survey.

Although that border was ratified by the two legislatures, farmers often could not see intermediate markers placed along the line. As a result, they plowed to where they thought the boundary existed. So instead of a straight divider, the border began to meander.

The turf battle is not new to the two states, which received their royal colonial charters in the 1660s. In 1720, for example, the English Board of Trade became so irritated by their territorial arguments that it recommended the charters be revoked and the two colonies be annexed to New Hampshire. "While some would joke and say, `We'll take Foxwoods, and you can have another part of our state,' we both have things at stake here," said Lynch, the Rhode Island attorney general.

He has advised all residents who have received adjusted property tax bills from Connecticut not to pay them. Instead, he has directed the chief of his civil division to hold those taxes in abeyance until a resolution is reached.

Lynch's counterpart in Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, said yesterday that North Stonington has been advised repeatedly that only the Legislature can set boundaries.

Lynch said he is confident that the two border commissions will be able to reach agreement, preferably for an "occupational border" that might deviate from the straight line envisioned in colonial times, but would accommodate the desires of Rhode Islanders and Connecticut residents to stay put.

"In the long run," Blumenthal said, "this supposed dispute may be regarded as a curious footnote in the history of our two states."

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That's amazing! I was reading recently about the notch on the bottom of Massachusetts into Connecticut and how that was compensation for a fifty mile strip of land owed to Mass, and wasn't the statue of liberty claimed by NJ at one point?

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New england should probably just become a single state. It would be a better match in size to other states in the east, coordinate regional interactions, and resolve these kinds of problems. It will never happen though. Six senators, independence, and differences among states are too big to overcome.

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12 Senators...

I think we should be our own country, but don't tell Ashcroft I said that. :ph34r:

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No more Bush, no more holy-rollin` Pat Robertson types.... it would be paradise ;)

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No more Bush, no more holy-rollin` Pat Robertson types.... it would be paradise ;)

No, no, I want to take Cow Hampshire with us. :P

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It's amazing that they have have been debating this all these years.

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Actually Michigan had a border battle a while ago....a LONG while ago. Toledo, Ohio used to be part of Michigan. There was even a war over it! We got the better end of the deal though...we got the entire Upper Peninsula!!

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A war? Over Toledo? INCONCEIVABLE!

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