The battle to reclaim Arlington County-taken from us in 1846-took a decisive turn this week as brave D.C. residents claimed a beachhead on the southern-most tip of the land occupied by Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Unconfirmed reports find that a larger mission to take back the county and make D.C. whole again may be afoot.
OK, that didn’t really happen, and no, no one is yet plotting to take back Arlington. (Yet.) But a watchful commenter pointed out an interesting quirk that appears on Google maps-the boundary between D.C. and Virginia suddenly cuts across the southern end of the airport’s land, granting us a small portion of what has long been considered part of Arlington County. There’s not much to it, really-just a parking lot and some grass-but hey, it’s a symbolic win for sure. (And more parking for D.C. drivers!)
The apparent mistake got us to thinking: does D.C. really own a small section of Reagan Airport? It’s not so crazy to assume so. Most of what we now know as Reagan Airport was built in the 1940s on land that, well, didn’t really exist back then-construction took place on mudflats just south of Gravelly Point, using land that was dredged from the Potomac River. The existing boundary between D.C. and Virginia is the high-water point of the river on the Virginia side, so technically the airport grew out of a portion of the river that is part of D.C., not Virginia. It wasn’t until 1945 that Congress actually passed a law granting the land to the Old Dominion.
Official Arlington County maps seem to draw the border around the entirety of the airport’s land, as does Bing. A spokeswoman for the county said she’d look into it, but let’s be honest-she’s probably telling Arlington County residents to prepare a counter-attack. No, but seriously, this seems to be nothing more than a Google mistake. (We’ll update if they get back to us with a more technical answer.)
Is this all an exercise in futility? It is just a Google map, after all. Sure, until you consider that in late 2010 Costa Rica and Nicaragua engaged in minor skirmishes over the San Juan River that both countries share. Cambodia and Thailand have also had their disagreements. Why? Errant borders on Google maps.