WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) introduced legislation today in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to protect private property rights along the Red River from federal ownership claims. By providing legal certainty to landowners, the “Red River Gradient Boundary Survey Act” seeks to end questions about the federal government's ownership of disputed land along the Red River.
“With a long overdue survey of the land in question, this bill can finally end the baseless claims the federal government has made over privately owned property along the Red River,” said Sen. Cornyn. “Texas families who have lived along the river for generations deserve to know they’re protected from a federal land grab, and this bill is a critical first step towards providing these folks certainty.”
“Private property owners should never have to worry about the federal government coming in and taking away their land, especially land that has never been properly surveyed. Our bills will help provide these property owners the certainty that they deserve to know where public lands end and private lands begin,” Thornberry said.
Many landowners and other public officials are alarmed that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) actions might result in disputed claims of ownership. Since concern first arose in December 2013, Cornyn’s and Thornberry’s offices have held multiple meetings, phone calls, and other correspondence with landowners, as well as local and state officials, to coordinate action.
The legislation they introduced this week has been adjusted from the bills they introduced in the previous two sessions of Congress. In 2015, a previous version of the bill passed the House of Representatives 253-177. The new legislation reflects the input they received by listening to landowners, the Texas General Land Office, and many others.
Cornyn and Thornberry have been pressing the case with BLM locally and with the agency’s leadership in Washington. In 2013, the agency said there are thousands of acres along the Red River on the border between Texas and Oklahoma that may be considered public domain. But the majority of the contested river has never been properly surveyed by the BLM. The stretch of land is located in Wilbarger, Wichita, and Clay counties.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04) are original cosponsors of the legislation.
The legislation will provide legal certainty to property owners along the Red River by:
• Commissioning a survey of the majority of the 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.