By Kathryn G. Menu
As a technical research associate with the Brookhaven National Laboratory, F. Michael Hemmer found himself on the mathematical cutting edge, helping the laboratory build its Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a tool physicists from around the world use to study what the universe may have looked like at the moment of its creation.
But for the last five years, Hemmer and his team of associates at F. Michael Hemmer Land Surveyors, have been leaving their mark around Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Southampton. Hemmer founded the Sag Harbor based business, with friend and resident John Landi, in 2005. The private practice is focused on drafting surveys for real estate transfers and municipal permits.
“I love working in the community and being a part of this community,” said Hemmer on Monday. “The caliber of people, both in Sag Harbor and at the laboratory, is pretty high. At Brookhaven, we were doing cutting edge work, and I do have nostalgia for that; but beyond that I love being in my own business. I have more control. I can take a moment and go down to Marine Park, enjoy a cup of coffee and have a chat with people.”
Hemmer discovered surveying was the perfect fit for him during the summer of 1972, during his first semester as a mathematics major at the University of Idaho, when he joined an Idaho State Highway Department survey crew, mapping a new two-lane highway between Bovill and Deary, Idaho at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
“In the beginning, it was because I liked the combination of mathematic skill and working outside,” said Hemmer. “The funny part is, as soon as they understand you can do the computations they pull you from the field.”
After exploring other fields that kept him awash in fresh air, including as a logger and farmer in the Pacific Northwest, Hemmer returned to his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, where he learned more about the trade, which is rooted in the history of the nation’s founding fathers.
In his first full time position, while surveying townhouses on Captains Row in Olde Town Alexandria, Hemmer discovered the boundary monuments set by Lawrence and George Washington in the early 1700s at intersections of the cobblestone streets. Washington, like virtually all of the founding fathers, was a surveyor by trade.
“I suspect George was a part of the survey crew,” said Hemmer, noting that while the younger Washington’s maps are well regarded, he believes much was taken from the work of his older brother, Lawrence.
“It’s a real positive feeling to feel your profession is connected to history,” said Hemmer. “One concept in surveying is to trace the steps of a previous surveyor. To realize some of these steps go that far back, to our founders and forefathers, is really pretty amazing.”
Working as a surveyor, 15 years later Hemmer was named technical research associate at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and given the task of conducting the statistical analysis for surveying and alignment of the superconducting magnets of RHIC, a 2.5 mile circular particle accelerator. Despite a zeal for the precision required for such state-of-the-art work, once the RIHC was completed, Hemmer and Landi, who had both been creating surveys on a part time basis since 2002, opened F. Michael Hemmer Land Surveying in 2005.
Staffed by Hemmer, Landi, Sag Harbor native Karen Cilli Sperling and Shelter Island resident Patrick Donahue, the practice uses modern digital instruments, infra-red lasers and electronic data collection devices that Hemmer said give field measurements today a high degree of precision, compared to the tools of yesterday, namely old invar steel chains. All maps and plans developed at the firm are created with computer aided drafting (CAD) software and given to clients in both hard and digital formats. Hemmer said the firm also uses GIS (geographic information system) technology, which helps produce surveys in a timely and efficient manner.
“To have the quality of people I work with – John, Karen and Pat – is really what it is all about,” said Hemmer. “It’s a small operation and a very rigorous profession, so everyone really has to get along. Attention to detail is critical. Every map is an attempt at perfection and yet we all still can make mistakes, as everyone does. So there is no perfect map. From our point of view, if we do a survey map for a real estate transaction we know at least three attorneys will be looking at it with a microscope. So, to love this profession is to be a little bit of a perfectionist, a little bit of an obsessive compulsive.”
F. Michael Hemmer Land Surveyors is located in Sag Harbor and can be reached by calling 725-7199 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org