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A Victory for All American Private Property Owners

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Washington, December 13, 2015 | comments

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry Sen. John Cornyn
Wichita Falls Times Record News

http://www.timesrecordnews.com/opinion/national/a-victory-for-all-american-private-property-owners-26a1fdc8-e081-3877-e053-0100007f6c98-361683461.html

Imagine that you had worked hard to purchase a piece of property, pay your taxes on the land, and plan to pass it along to your children for their use and enjoyment. All seems well until an agency of the federal government decides that it really owns your land and swoops in to take it away. You try to fight the government in court but while you do, a cloud hangs over the title to the property for years.

That is the nightmare facing more than 150 land owners along a 116-mile stretch of the Red River. However, stopping this land grab by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is important for more than just those directly affected. Property rights affect all of us, and we must stand together to protect them.

As part of BLM's update to its Resource Management Plan two years ago, the agency originally claimed that it owned up to 90,000 more acres than it previously suggested along the Red River. It later reduced that estimate to approximately 30,000 acres. But the federal government has only surveyed about 6,400 acres of the land in question, and these spot surveys are highly contested. They appear to stray greatly from the survey method mandated by the Supreme Court in the 1920s. BLM has also stated that it does not plan to survey the rest of the land in question.

Since 2013, our offices have held countless meetings, phone calls, and site visits with these landowners, as well as local and state officials, to coordinate action. As a result of these interactions, we introduced theRed River Private Property Protection Act in the House and Senate — legislation that seeks to end questions about the federal government's ownership of the disputed land. And in one of the most encouraging developments in this long fight, the U.S. House of Representatives this week passed the bill.

The legislation will require that an actual survey be taken of the entire 116-mile stretch in question using the gradient boundary survey method developed and backed by the Supreme Court. This survey must also be conducted by licensed state land surveyors chosen by the Texas General Land Office and be paid for by the government. Importantly, the final survey must ultimately be approved by the State of Texas.

The bill also allows the landowner to appeal any further federal government ownership claims to their land through an Administrative Law judge. Once these claims are settled, BLM must sell off the surface rights of the remaining publicly-owned land at fair market value after the proper boundary line is located and settled. The bill also explicitly states that the interest of the states and the sovereign rights of the federally-recognized Indian tribes will not be affected. And the Congressional Budget Office estimates that this legislation would save U.S. taxpayers about $3 million. In short, this legislation would keep Texans from losing their property to a federal land grab.

By establishing a process to resolve uncertainty, this commonsense legislation would ultimately protect the property rights of Texans. The right to own private property is a cornerstone of our way of life. We will continue to do everything we can to protect that right for these landowners and all Texans.

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