Borders of Lago de Maracaibo

On May 14, 2017 · 1 Comments

Strange boundaries came to light as I examined Lago de Maracaibo — Lake Maracaibo — in northwestern Venezuela. See if you agree.


Lago de Maracaibo
Lago de Maracaibo

I’d like to give proper credit for this map although I couldn’t find a citation. I found it at some random website using Google Images. The little snippet I took should count as "fair use" in any case so it didn’t concern me too much. Anyway, the state of Zulia encircled much of the lake. Trujillo included a small if respectable border adjoining the lake as well on the eastern side. Mérida proved to be the exception. It featured a little tendril, a narrow sipping straw that ran up to the lake from the southeast while creating a Zulia exclave in the process.

Some portion of the Twelve Mile Circle audience may wonder if I plan to delve into the political situation in Venezuela. No, this is not a politics blog. I’ll stick purely with geography, thank you. Let’s move onward.


State of Mérida



An explanation for the narrow Mérida strip onto the lake appeared in the Spanish version of Wikipedia. Assuming a nominal level of accuracy, the corridor apparently came courtesy of Zulia, a gift to Mérida in 1904. Mérida did not have an outlet to the sea before that time. In fact, geographically much of Mérida fell within the Western Andean Region. This included the Venezuelan national highpoint, Pico Bolívar (map) at 4,978 metres (16,332 feet).

Thus, Mérida got its pathway to the lake, and thereby an extension to the Gulf of Venezuela, the Caribbean Sea and the rest of the outside world. It didn’t do much with it though. Little development happened along the waterfront. Only the tiny fishing village of Palmarito (map) graced Mérida’s shoreline. Palmarito also differed considerably from the rest of Mérida. Certainly no mountains existed there. If anything, it resembled something closer to the islands of the Caribbean. The population differed too, descended primarily from Africans brought as slaves to work plantations centuries earlier during the Colonial period.

Nonetheless, a decent road ran along the corridor and connected Palmarito to the Pan American Highway, only 10 kilometres away. Theoretically it could become a major port someday. The century old gift from Zulia should be considered within that light. It was a nice gesture.


State of Zulia



However, Zulia’s gift to Mérida created an odd situation for itself. It cleaved Municipio (municipality) Sucre into two nearly equally-sized portions, one attached to the rest of Zulia and the other an exclave. The larger portion of Sucre’s population fell within the exclave, with fully half of its residents (26,000 people) within the single town of Caja Seca (map). However, it didn’t seem like residents of either portion would feel too disconnected from each other. Caja Seca fell right on the border with Mérida and the Pan American Highway ran directly through it. The rest of Sucre municipality could be reached easily enough after a short jaunt down a paved highway across the neck of the Mérida corridor (map). No problem.

Caja Seca translated from Spanish into English as "Dry Box." I couldn’t figure out why. Nonetheless, when twinned with the neighboring town of Nueva Bolivia (across the border in Mérida), it formed an economic catalyst for the whole southern end of the lake. The area grew rapidly in recent years. Nueva Bolivia began in 1928 as nothing more than a cluster of houses along a road used to move goods between lake and land. Over time, and especially after construction of the highway, it gained ongoing prominence and became the capital of Municipio Tulio Febres-Cordero in 1988. Caja Seca got a later start although it reached and perhaps eclipsed Nueva Bolivia recently.


Postscript

Only a narrow channel of the Torondoy River separated Caja Seca in Zulia from Nueva Bolivia in Mérida. In actuality, the two melded together into a single conglomerate of close to a hundred thousand residents when combined with other towns nearby. Once an agricultural center, it began to shift rapidly towards a service-based economy in recent years. Ironically, as time passed, access to the highway seemed more important to Mérida than access to the lake.

Bizarre Broomfield Borders

On April 2, 2017 · 8 Comments

Recently Twelve Mile Circle focused a couple of articles on the boundaries of Virginia’s independent cities. That led loyal reader Scott Surgent to comment on an equally strange situation in Broomfield County, Colorado. I certainly knew about Broomfield because of its status as one of the newest and smallest of U.S. counties. It didn’t exist until 2001 and it covered only 34 square miles (88 square kilometres). I’d even featured it on 12MC before, such as when county counter extraordinaire Fritz Keppler recalled his visit to Broomfield on the first day of its existence. However, I’d never examined its borders before.


U.S. 36 En Route to Boulder, Broomfield, Colorado
U.S. 36 En Route to Boulder, Broomfield, Colorado
Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr (cc)

Take a look at Broomfield on Mob Rule or Google or even the county’s official street map. The borders seemed nothing if not bizarre. Narrow tendrils extended along roadways or tethered nearly-detached rural acreage. Broomfield included a couple of enclaves of neighboring counties within its body. It also owned a narrow exclave along a major roadway, barely wider than the lanes of traffic itself.

I wondered how this happened. Next I drilled down a little closer into Broomfield’s multiple geo-oddities.


Broomfield as a Municipality

Broomfield’s origin explained its shape. It did not begin as a county, nobody originally envisioned it as a county, and it probably never would have become a county except for its unusual growth near four other counties. The county’s history page said that Broomfield began as a little village around the turn of the last century in the southeastern corner of Boulder County. Construction of the Boulder Turnpike in 1950 offered opportunities for growth. Then the Turnpike Land Company purchased acreage nearby and created a master planned community. Development led to further development and Broomfield continued to expand. It incorporated as a municipality in 1961.

A local publication, the Broomfield Enterprise, commented on the community’s success on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 2011. Everything stemmed from bold actions. Broomfield didn’t compete with counties that surrounded it; rather Broomfield competed with nearby municipalities. Both offensive and defensive annexations occurred. Broomfield skillfully grabbed land in favorable locations and blocked other municipalities from doing the same. This led to a crazy patchwork of boundaries typical of many municipalities in the United States.


Broomfield as a County

However, the municipality of Broomfield started to encounter a number of issues as it expanded. Once confined to Boulder County, it eventually flowed into Weld, Adams and Jefferson Counties, too. That meant it had to deal with four different governments, each with its own set of regulations, adjudication, taxation, services and schools. Governance in a quad county town became tedious and difficult.

Fortunately Colorado offered precedence. The state amended its constitution in 1902 to form the consolidated City and County of Denver. Could such a device also work for Broomfield? In 1998, the municipality reviewed the possibility: "Formation of a Broomfield City & County — Is it Feasible?" (pdf). The study concluded favorably. However, implementation required a state constitutional amendment. It also needed to survive a referendum by the citizens of Broomfield. Those steps happened and the municipality of Broomfield became the City and County of Broomfield on November 15, 2001.

Nonetheless, the amendment — Article 20, Sections 10-13 — placed limits on expansion. If froze Broomfield’s existing municipal borders until it could become a county. Afterwards, Broomfield could expand only after approval of a seven-member panel that included voting representatives from the four counties that surrounded it. That effectively cemented the weirdness of Broomfield’s final municipal boundaries into its county boundaries.

Let’s take a look, shall we?


Broomfield Border Overview


Broomfield
Borders of Broomfield County

I had a hard time following some of the borders so I drew them out by hand with a wider line. I marked some of the peculiarities with letters. Hopefully that will make it easier to follow along when I show close-up images, below. I started at the top and proceeded clockwise.


(A) Weld County Enclave


Weld in Broomfield
Weld County Enclave within Broomfield

There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for the tiny enclave of Weld County embedded within Broomfield. All I could figure was that maybe the owners of that land didn’t want to belong to Broomfield. In Colorado, local residents needed to vote affirmatively to join a municipality. Somehow this little pocket escaped Broomfield’s clutches as it expanded.


(B) Broomfield’s Eastern Tendril


Eastern Tendril
The Eastern Tendril

The little patch of Broomfield south of W. 152nd Ave. almost qualified as an exclave. I took an optimistic look, hoping it might be true. However, the width of Huron Road extended as a tendril connecting what appeared to be nothing more than an empty field, to the rest of the county. Who knew what future use Broomfield intended for this space? Regardless, Broomfield grabbed it.


(C) Broomfield’s Southwestern Tendril


Southwestern Tendril
The Southwestern Tendril

I thought I might have spotted a boundary cross. Upon closer inspection, however, I dispelled that possibility. Broomfield stuck a narrow corridor between Boulder and Jefferson along W. 120th Ave.


(D) Northwest Parkway Corridor


Northwest Parkway
The Confusing Northwest Parkway

I could only describe the Northwest Parkway Corridor as a complete mess. Clearly, Broomfield coveted the parkway as it grew. Maybe if it controlled the parkway it could control access to and from the parkway. Like a castle wall, it could keep other municipalities at bay. However, in the process, it created a confusing situation. It left a section of Boulder connected to its home county by two narrow corridors, along S. 104th St. and U.S. Route 287. It created a Broomfield exclave along the parkway and an adjoining exit ramp. It also created a Boulder enclave within Broomfield, separated from the rest of its home county solely by the width of W. Dillon Road.


(E) The Zigzag


Northwest Parkway
Zigzagging

The strangeness of one section of the border between Broomfield and Weld completely confounded me. First, I didn’t know how to describe it. Zigzag seemed to fit, except it formed rectangular lines rather than triangular. Second, why? What purpose would it serve for Broomfield to erect that figurative wall so close to its own border? It didn’t even seem to include anything consequential. Maybe it had something to do with the golf course immediately to the west. I don’t know.

Prince George Exclave

On March 19, 2017 · 6 Comments

Every once in awhile I receive a tip where I need to drop everything so I can search for an explanation. Frequent reader "Aaron" discovered an exclave that I’d never seen before. Shockingly, it appeared in my own home state of Virginia and I’d actually driven through the exclave during my county counting adventures. How did I not notice it?

That’s all it took to suck me down into a rabbit hole for most of a Saturday afternoon.


The Exclave

The exclave definitely existed. I examined several sources and found it each time. Check it out:


Prince George Exclave
Prince George Co., VA Exclave
via Mob Rule

Virginia’s independent city of Hopewell carved its territory from the northwestern corner of Prince George County, at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers. Prince George surrounded Hopewell on three sides — east, west and south — while Chesterfield County hugged its northern shore across the Appomattox. However, a tiny dot of Prince George stood alone, stranded from the rest of the county. This overlapped a segment of Virginia State Route 10, Randolph Road. Someone driving south from Chesterfield along the road would first hit Prince George (sign) and then enter Hopewell (sign) only 0.32 miles (0.5 km) later. This wasn’t an inconsequential road either. It supported an Annual Average Daily Traffic Volume of 19,000 vehicles.


Prince George Exclave View
Inside the Exclave
via Google Street View, September 2016

This brief slice of Prince George coincided with a bridge crossing the Appomattox, from the river midpoint to where the bridge returned to dry land. The exclave formed a rectangle no wider than the bridge itself. I will visit it someday. Fortunately there appeared to be a safe point to explore it, on Riverside Avenue directly below the bridge. That, of course, fell within the exclave too.


Annexation by Independent Cities


Hopewell Welcome Sign
Welcome to Hopewell. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

The Commonwealth of Virginia maintained an odd assortment of independent cities, a highly rare arrangement within the United States. Of the 41 independent cities found in the U.S., 38 of them fell within Virginia (only the cities of Baltimore, St. Louis and Carson City did not). I’ve mentioned this anomaly several times in 12MC over the years, usually in reference to my county counting pursuits. Those independent cities were not subservient to their surrounding counties and thus "counted" as county equivalents.

I hadn’t looked much at the mechanics of it until now. Fortunately I found a publication from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. The arrangement extended all the way back to Virginia’s colonial era, an artifact carried over to modern times. Cities could annex land from adjacent counties as needed. However, counties generally did not like to cede their territory. This situation begged for an equitable process so the General Assembly adopted revised procedures in 1904. It required proposed annexation to go to a special court composed of three judges who would listen to both sides before making a decision. The court approved about 80% of annexations over the years according to this publication. Virginia recognized 128 of 160 proposed city-county annexations until it implemented a moratorium in 1987. Annexations caused too much animosity between cities and counties.

Hopewell incorporated as an Independent City in 1914. Thus, it followed the 1904 procedures. The 3-judge panel would have adjudicated Hopewell’s formation and any expansions. The resulting exclave must have been an explicit and intentional act on Hopewell’s part. There must have been a specific reason for Hopewell to exclude that tiny sliver of Prince George. It was not an accident.


Byrd Road Act


Harry F. Byrd
Harry F. Byrd. Wikimedia Commons; in the Public Domain

Then what might have been the reason? I found a likely candidate in some Depression-era legislation, Chapter 415 of the 1932 Acts of the General Assembly. This was more commonly called the Byrd Road Act. Harry Flood Byrd controlled Virginia politics for a half century through his Byrd Organization, a powerful political machine. He served as governor from 1926-1930, then as a U.S. Senator from 1933-1965. The legislation in question focused on secondary roads, enacting Byrd’s vision even though he no longer served as governor.

The Depression hit Virginia’s rural counties particularly hard. They didn’t have enough money to pave most of their roads, much less maintain them. They Act offered a novel solution. Control of secondary roads reverted to the state at the discretion of each county. State tax receipts would then fund construction and maintenance. An estimate at the time predicted that the Act "would reduce rural taxes by $2,895,102 annually." This seemed like an excellent trade-off and nearly every county accepted the offer (and today only Henrico and Arlington Counties control their own secondary roads as a result).

However, money had to come from somewhere. The Act excluded independent cities which still had to maintain their own secondary roads. Additionally, more people and more wealth concentrated in cities. Therefore state taxes paid by city residents subsidize road construction and maintenance in counties. Cities got hit twice, once for their own roads and again to support rural roads throughout the state. That was just fine by the Byrd Organization which found its base of power in rural counties. Even today people marvel at the wonderful, beautiful roads in the middle of nowhere throughout Virginia. Thank the Byrd Road Act.


Conclusion

Now, back to that bridge carrying drivers on Route 10 across the Appomattox River. If Hopewell annexed the land and water beneath the bridge then Hopewell’s taxes would have to maintain the bridge. If Hopewell declined to annex the bridge — leaving behind a tiny pocket of Prince George County — the state of Virginia would have to maintain it. That created a powerful financial incentive for Hopewell to exclude the bridge from its annexation proposal. Prince George County wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t have to pay for maintenance regardless.

I never found an official government document that said explicitly that this was the reason. However, I believed a preponderance of the evidence pointed clearly towards that direction. It made perfect sense and no other reason seemed plausible. The only other mention of this exclave anywhere on the Intertubes seemed to reach a similar conclusion.


Ironic Addendum

Virginia’s counties got a great bargain in 1932. However, the system began to fray over the decades especially for rapidly urbanizing counties. A report published by George Mason University in 2011 concluded,

Almost one-third of Virginia’s secondary road system is currently deficient, and programs designed to attract county participation in construction and maintenance are not working… the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) secondary construction program has provided minimal funding support for constructing new secondary roads in recent years…

Some localities, like Fairfax County with over a million residents, began to chafe under a system where the state controlled its secondary roads. Insufficient, traffic-clogged roads threatened to strangle the county with gridlock. Fairfax even began to explore conversion to independent city status in order to regain that control.


One Final Note

A special thank you to Aaron. This page now serves as the definitive source of information for the maybe ten people on the entire planet who want to know about this exclave. I can’t believe I spent more than 1,200 words talking about a plot of land only a third of a mile long by a hundred feet wide. That’s why you read Twelve Mile Circle. Right?

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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