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Homegrown Preston land survey firm merges with Boston-based DGT Associates

Preston — When Susan Mattern began her career as a land surveyor in 1978, she and a co-worker relied on shouting to each other to make sure their measurements were accurate — things like, “good!” or “a little to the right!”

Radios then improved communication, and later came digitized surveying equipment, followed by GPS-connected devices that use satellites to pinpoint within an eighth-of-an-inch accuracy.

And as president of the Connecticut Association of Land Surveyors the past two years, Mattern has helped set up webinars on the emerging use of drones in survey work, especially helpful for measurements in deep canyons or sluiceways, she said.

“Technology is changing all the time,” Mattern said, standing on the historic 1725 homestead property of Elihu Chesebro in Stonington as her crew worked to survey the property for boundaries, topography, and floodplain boundaries.

Amtrak trains whizzed by on the tracks that separate the property that overlooks a water inlet and Elihu Island. Outdoor settings like this helped attract the Preston farm girl who graduated from Paul Smith College in the Adirondack Mountains in New York with a degree in forestry.

Mattern started working as a surveyor in 1978 in what was supposed to be an interim job in New Haven while she waited for her chance to become a forest ranger. But she was hooked on the profession, moved back to her hometown of Preston and worked in the area. By 1997, she was ready to launch her own surveying business.

She started as Susan Camp LS; then Camp Land Surveyors, and by 2011, now married to Mattern Construction owner George Mattern, Susan’s firm became Susan Mattern Land Surveyors.

Her resume ranges from residential property surveys to the historic Sunnyside Bridge reconstruction in Norwich and the excavation work at the former Norwich Hospital cleanup in her own town.

Her crews surveyed the route for the HighFlyer zip line at Foxwoods Resort Casino, from the take-off at the top of The Fox Tower to the landing at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. “We had to marry those two sites at the base and at the top.”

Mattern also developed an expertise for researching the history of properties, their boundaries and descriptions of markers and landmarks. She loves matching those descriptions with the land markers in the field. She still marvels at the old maps and deed descriptions and feels honored that her firm’s own maps, filed on the official municipal land records, will live forever.

Last summer, Mattern, now 65, began pondering the future of her small four-member firm in the face of rapidly changing technology. She wanted to secure a place for the business she built and the statewide reputation she and her three employees have earned.

At the same time, Michael Clifford, co-founder and principal of DGT Associates Inc., a leading New England surveying firm based in the Boston area, was looking to expand into southeastern Connecticut. The firm was doing more and more work in Rhode Island, and Clifford wanted to tap into Connecticut shoreline development as well.

"We’re always on the lookout for firms to acquire," Clifford said.

A merger and acquisitions consultant approached the two firms last summer. Talks ensued, and by the end of February, the merger was complete. Mattern’s office headquarters at 148 Route 2 in Preston soon will sport a new sign as the southeastern Connecticut office of DGT Associates Inc., with Mattern as the regional office manager.

Mattern’s three employees will remain, and Clifford hopes to expand the office with new staff, recruiting at colleges with engineering programs, surveying classes and tech schools in the region. There are few surveying majors anywhere across the country, Clifford said, and getting young students excited about the highly skilled trade is essential.

“It’s considered an aging profession,” Clifford said. “There’s not a lot of young people involved, which baffles me. We’re always trying to reach out to engineering schools, tech schools. We always promote the technology, all the gizmos we use.”

DGT has developed a specialty with underground surveying for unknown or long-forgotten utilities, what he called "the underground spaghetti."

“Our team will continue providing premier surveying and engineering services to clients and partners throughout southeastern Connecticut and the surrounding communities,” Mattern wrote in a letter to customers on her website, www.ctsurveying.com, announcing the merger. “And now, clients have access to DGT’s breadth of services, including 3D laser scanning services.”

She touted the firm’s subsurface utility location mapping, as well as façade mapping and remote sensor technology.

Mattern said she is excited for her staff to gain experience with the latest technology the larger firm can bring to the region, possibly including drones.

And with the continued prevalence of remote working during the pandemic, Clifford said staff in the Preston office could be working on projects located anywhere in New England. Training is underway for the Preston staff to learn DGT’s computer software and technology, as the two companies merge their databases of clients and projects.

“I really didn’t want to just close up shop,” Mattern said, although she has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I wanted to secure a future for the company.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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