U.S. House passes bill to settle Red River land dispute

Private landowners along the Red River are unsure whether the land they have held titles to and have paid taxes on, in some cases for generations, will remain in their families or be confiscated by the federal government. The legislation will provide legal certainty to property owners along the Red River.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NACB) and the Public Lands Council applaud passage of H.R. 428, the “Red River Gradient Boundary Survey Act,” a bill that would establish a fair and balanced process to conduct an accurate survey of contested land along the Red River and identify the proper boundary between public and private land ownership.

The bill, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, passed 250 to 171.

“This bill essentially requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to do what they should have done all along. Its passage in the House is an important step toward providing these landowners with the legal certainty they deserve. I hope we can use this momentum to get the bill passed in the Senate and then signed into law by the President,” Thornberry says. “I will continue working with the landowners, local and state officials, and Senator Cornyn (R-TX) until this issue is resolved once and for all.” 
Thornberry says the bill was introduced to force the BLM to act on an issue that has been unclear for nearly 100 years. In enacted, the legislation would require BLM to survey a small strip of federal land along the entire 116-mile stretch of the Red River between Oklahoma and Texas. The BLM has never actively managed the small strip of federal land, and its own estimates of how much they own have varied widely over the years.  
As a result, private landowners along the River are unsure whether the land they have held titles to and have paid taxes on, in some cases for generations, will remain in their families or be confiscated by the federal government.
The legislation will provide legal certainty to property owners along the Red River by:

• Commissioning a survey of the entire 116-mile stretch of contested area along the Red River using the gradient boundary survey method developed and backed by the Supreme Court to find the proper ownership boundary between public and private land.  

• Ordering that the survey be conducted by licensed and qualified surveyors chosen by Texas and Oklahoma.

• Providing states the authority to oversee the surveyors and approve the final survey to ensure the Supreme Court instructions are properly followed.

• Requiring that a notice of survey approval, a copy of the survey, and any related field notes be provided to each individual land owner after the survey is completed.

• Ensuring that nothing in the bill alters the Red River Boundary Compact, modifies the interests of the states, or harms the rights of the impacted federally recognized Indian Tribes.

 

(TSCRA) President Richard Thorpe issued the following statement: “I am pleased by the bipartisan passage of the Red River Gradient Boundary Survey Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation will finally provide legal certainty to landowners along the Red River who have faced an unprecedented land grab by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The bill calls for a survey of the contested area using the gradient boundary survey method developed and backed by the U.S. Supreme Court to find the proper ownership boundary between public and private lands. Further, it provides Texas and Oklahoma the authority to oversee the survey and approve the results.

“Since 2014, the BLM has laid claim to an estimated 30,000 acres of privately owned property along a 116 mile stretch of the Red River. Their attempted seizure has left innocent families in debt and legal limbo as they fight to keep land that they have owned for generations.

“TSCRA greatly appreciates Rep. Mac Thornberry and Sen. John Cornyn for their work on this very serious issue facing our members and other landowners. We encourage the Senate to swiftly consider the companion bill, S. 90 championed by Sen. Cornyn, and look forward to working with the new administration to get the legislation signed into law,” Thorpe concluded.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council also registered approval of the bill.
“Private landowners have owned and successfully managed lands along the Red River for quite some time, some for over 100 years,” said Joe Guild, NCBA policy division chairman. “These landowners hold deeds to the land and have regularly paid property taxes. We remain opposed to the taking of private property through federal usurpation and applaud the House for taking affirmative action to fix this problem.”
In 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the gradient line of the south bank of the Red River was the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma (Oklahoma v. Texas). Recognizing that the Red River is a unique situation, the State of Texas and the State of Oklahoma agreed to an interstate boundary compact known as the Red River Boundary Compact, essentially resolving the dispute over the definition of the border between the two states. The 106th Congress enacted legislation ratifying the compact, establishing the new Texas-Oklahoma boundary on August 31, 2000.
In 2013, the BLM stated that an estimated 90,000 acres of land along the 116 mile stretch of the Red River may be considered public domain.
Congressman Thornberry's bill, and the Senate companion S. 90 championed by Sen. Cornyn would settle the dispute by requiring a survey of the majority of the 116 mile stretch of the contested area.
PLC and NCBA urge the Senate to take up the Senator Cornyn’s companion legislation without delay.
 

 

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