There are certain requirements that must be met when it comes to research and title work for utility projects. When tackled successfully, research can help promote efficiency, maintain schedule constraints and acquire appropriate land rights to support project implementation. During these steps, it is important to keep in mind that not all projects are created equal. Some require additional or specific attention to detail.

Linear and greenfield projects demand differing research and title search practices compared to other types of work. For example, linear projects require development of a line list for a proposed route at the beginning of the scoping process. The associated title work may simply capture current ownership to determine if the proper party is engaged in order to acquire the necessary easement rights. In addition, the title work will capture land use and ownership type. A greenfield substation purchase would require a full title search back to patent to obtain all items that encumber the subject parcel. Purchasing a site that has substantial facilities already in place may render it infeasible for project needs.

Before extensive research and line list development can begin, the initial routing and project walkdown must be completed. During the project walkdown, team members from the engineering, stakeholder engagement, construction, and land and survey groups gather pertinent information and assess field conditions to determine needs for property rights. This includes existing prescriptive rights, existing easement corridors, targeted properties, public road right-of-way width, topography and encroachments.

As soon as initial routing and project walkdown occur, steps to complete land research, line list development and existing rights research can begin. These procedures involve discovering what type of ownership is involved — private landowner, business, community, industrial, medical, school or other special uses — and how the land is being used. Land uses usually fall within the categories of residential, industrial, commercial, municipal, state or federal.

A line list is created by searching public land records to capture parcel numbers, streets, boundary lines, sensitive environmental areas, road, rail and river crossing, and an overlay of historical land record maps based on the proposed project or circuit route. This data is then used to determine what additional county title research and internal utility company records research is required to acquire the necessary property rights for the target parcels, as well as develop alternatives for engineering.

Findings from this research highlights gaps in existing rights and helps reduce time needed to acquire additional rights. Failure to perform proper county land records title search and research due diligence can create risks to schedule and cost overruns. When completed properly, these important steps create a more seamless utility project experience.


Whether you are building an overpass, upgrading an electrical distribution circuit or constructing a transmission line, title and research practices are imperative to avoid surprises.

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Rob Scimeme is a senior right-of-way (ROW) specialist at Burns & McDonnell. He has extensive experience examining real property and land title for utility industries, as well as federal, state and public utility ROW and property acquisition and negotiation experience. Rob manages complex utility industry projects and programs that require a skilled, professional, results-driven project and team manager.