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Natural or artificial separations or divisions between adjoining properties that show their limits.
Boundaries are used to establish private and public ownership by determining the exact location of the points at which one piece of land is distinguishable from another. They are also used to mark the functional and jurisdictional limits of political subdivisions. For example, in the United States, boundaries are used to define villages, towns, cities, counties, and states.
The setting of boundaries is a characteristic of the modern era of history during which centralized states emerged that required both protection against attacks and definition of their populations. Historically, natural objects such as rivers and mountains served this purpose. Accurate determination of boundaries requires surveying and cartography, which were not widely used until the early nineteenth century. But even in the late twentieth century, with scientific information methods available, mapmakers occasionally are forced to turn to ancient landmarks and memories when attempting to set boundaries. For example, for centuries the borders within the Arabian peninsula had been loosely defined by tribes' grazing patterns. Following Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and subsequent defeat in 1991, United Nations mapmakers attempted to determine the exact border between Iraq and Kuwait. The United Nations enlisted the help of British border expert Julian Walker, who sought out elderly guides who could describe the locations of landmarks referred to in earlier records and provide a starting place for demarcation of the border.
Boundary disputes can last for centuries, undermining efforts to end long-standing animosities. In May 1994, at the signing of the historic self-rule accord for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasir Arafat, suddenly refused to sign six maps appended to the agreement. After much discussion with his advisers, Arafat added an Arabic disclaimer to the maps which made the point that the boundaries of the ancient West Bank town of Jericho were still in dispute, and then he signed the accord.
Several types of maritime boundaries exist, such as the territorial sea, which is a belt of coastal waters—controlled by the adjacent state and subject to rights such as those of foreign ships to passage—whose boundary is a line measured three miles from the low-water mark along the shore; contiguous zones, which extend beyond the territorial sea to a maximum of twelve miles, within which the controlling state may act to prevent or punish violations of its regulations; and a two-hundred-mile exclusive economic zone, subject to a nation's rights of exploration, exploitation, conservation, and management of marine life, which was authorized by the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. Marine boundaries provide fertile ground for international conflict. In June 1990, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement resolving a 1,600-mile-long maritime boundary dispute that began in 1977. The area at issue, some 21,000 square nautical miles, contained valuable fishing grounds and possible oil and gas fields. The conflict had its origins in 1867, when czarist Russia sold Alaska to the United States. It was not until more than 100 years later, while establishing their respective 200-mile fisheries zones off the coasts of Alaska and Siberia in the Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, and Arctic Ocean, that the two countries realized they had each set a different boundary for Alaska.
Even marine boundaries that have been widely accepted for years can be suddenly ignored. For example, in March 1995, Canada seized a Spanish trawler fishing for halibut in international waters just beyond Canada's 200-mile boundary. Foreign Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet of Canada claimed that a catastrophic decline in fishing stock in recent years gave Canada moral authority to extend its jurisdiction beyond the internationally recognized 200-mile maritime limit.
Boundaries in inland waters, such as the Canadian-U.S. boundary through the Great Lakes, follow a median line equidistant from the opposite shores. Boundaries in navigable rivers are set at the middle of the thalweg, which is the deepest or most navigable channel, as distinguished from the geographic center or a line midway between the banks (United States v. Louisiana, 470 U.S. 93, 105 S. Ct. 1074, 84 L. Ed. 2d 73 ). As the thalweg shifts owing to the accumulation of sediment in the river, the geographic boundary also shifts. The island exception to the rule of thalweg provides that if there is a divided river flow around an island, a boundary once established on one side of the island remains there, even if the main downstream navigation channel shifts to the island's other side (Louisiana v. Mississippi, 516 U.S. 22, 116 S. Ct. 290, 133 L. Ed. 2d 265 ).
Boundary disputes between states often attract attention from the media and from legal scholars because they invoke the U. S. Supreme Court's seldom-used original jurisdiction. The most typical path to the nation's high court is by appeal, either from a federal court of appeals or a state supreme court. Article III, Section 2 gives the Court original jurisdiction to try cases "affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be a Party."
In 1993, the state of New Jersey filed a complaint in the Supreme Court against the state of New York, alleging that filled portions of Ellis Island belonged to New Jersey. In 1834, a compact between New York and New Jersey, approved by Congress, established the boundary line between the states as the middle of the Hudson River. Ellis Island, then only three acres, became part of New York according to the compact. The United States in 1891 decided to use Ellis Island as a port to receive immigrants. Over the next 42 years, the federal government added 24.5 acres to the island to facilitate its use as a portal for the more than 100 million immigrants who passed through the island facilities. Although the Ellis Island Immigration Center closed in 1954, the site has remained an important historical landmark. The Supreme Court in 1994 appointed a Special Master, Paul Verkuil, to determine whether the filled portion of the island belonged to New York or to New Jersey. New Jersey v. New York, 513 U.S. 924, 115 S. Ct. 309, 130 L. Ed. 2d 273 (1994). Verkuil found that although the original 1834 compact designated the island as the property of New Jersey, the compact did not establish boundaries for the filled portions of the island. In a report filed with the Court in 1997 (520 U.S. 1273, 117 S. Ct. 2451, 138 L. Ed. 2d 209 ), Verkuil concluded the filled portions belonged to New York according to the original compact, which set the boundary line as the middle of the Hudson River. The Supreme Court concurred with the Special Master in its final order and degree in 1999 (526 U.S. 589, 119 S. Ct. 1743, 143 L. Ed. 2d 774 ).
The Supreme Court heard another boundary dispute in 2000 involving the states of New Hampshire and Maine. New Hampshire officials filed a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to decide whether the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is located in one state or the other. At stake in the case was approximately $3 million per year in income taxes that Maine assesses against the nearly 1,400 New Hampshire residents who work at the shipyard. New Hampshire has no state Income Tax, and its residents who work at the shipyard asserted that the assessment constituted taxation without representation.
The shipyard sits on Seavey Island, a 272-acre tract in the Piscataqua River between Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. New Hampshire contended that the island's border lies along the Main bank of the river, putting the shipyard in Maine. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court set the ocean boundary between the two states at a point in the mouth of the Piscataqua (New Hampshire v. Maine, 426 U.S. 363, 371, 96 S. Ct. 2113, 2118, 48 L. Ed. 2d 701 ). The 1976 decision left unclear how that boundary extends up river to Seavey Island. The Court nevertheless decided that the doctrine of judicial Estoppel precluded New Hampshire from asserting a position that contradicted its position in the 1976 case (New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 121 S. Ct. 1808, 149 L. Ed. 2d 968 ). The Court's decision brought a conclusion to a controversy that began heating up in the early 1990s and that had involved a series of hearings in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in 1997.
On June 14, 2003, in Pikeville, Kentucky, representatives of the Hatfield and McCoy families signed a truce officially ending the most famous mountain clan feud of them all. Some 60-plus descendants of the two families, which engaged in a bloody dispute that claimed at least a dozen lives at its height in the 1870s and 1880s, signed a peace proclamation to put the feud in the history books once and for all. The Hatfields and McCoys belonged to a single rural community that was artificially separated by the boundary line between Kentucky and West Virginia. The interfamilial dispute escalated over competing claims to timber rights on both sides of a meandering body of water.
Some observers believe that the traditional role of boundaries as buffer regions protecting the national security of nations began to change in the 1950s. Lawrence Herzog, professor of Mexican-American studies at San Diego State University, described the evolution of large-scale cities along the borders of nations, which he called transfrontier metropolises, that share ecological resources such as water and environmental problems such as sewage control and Air Pollution. Traditionally, divergent laws and customs in boundary areas have discouraged economic development by interfering with the movement of labor and commodities across borders. But with the emergence of two important world regions—Western Europe and the United States-Mexico border zone—economic development in cities along borders has become intertwined.
According to Herzog, such border urbanization has generated legal and political concerns not previously addressed by International Law. The emerging need for transborder cooperation in the areas of transportation, land use, and environmental regulation requires the development of new planning and policy guidelines that address the changing role of boundaries.
Epstein, Richard A. 2000. Private and Common Property. New York: Garland.
Herzog, Lawrence. 1991. "International Boundary Cities: The Debate on Transfrontier Planning in Two Border Regions." Natural Resources Journal 31.
——. 1990. Where North Meets South: Cities, Space, and Politics on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Austin, Tex.: CMAS Books.Spranking, John G. 2000. Understanding Property Law. New York: Lexis.