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Thornberry's Red River bill advances out of Committee

A bill to protect private property along the Red River was approved by the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Thursday, moving the legislation one step closer toward full consideration by the House of Representatives. The “Red River Private Property Protection Act,” H.R. 2130, introduced by U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon), seeks to settle all federal ownership claims by providing legal certainty to landowners along the Red River.

“I’m very pleased that the Natural Resources Committee agreed to consider my bill and passed it out of the Committee today. This is an important step toward our ultimate goal of getting this bill signed into law,” Thornberry said. “I will continue working with my colleagues in the House and Senator Cornyn (R-TX), who has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, to resolve this issue once and for all.” 

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, Thornberry’s office has held multiple meetings, phone calls, and other correspondence with landowners, as well as local and state officials, to coordinate action. Thornberry’s bill reflects the input they received by listening to landowners, the Texas General Land Office, and many others.

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 boundary between private and federally owned land. 

• Ordering that the survey be conducted within 2 years by Licensed State Land Surveyors and approved by the Texas General Land Office in consultation with The Commissioners of the Land Office in Oklahoma.

• Allowing landowners who hold the proper right, title, and/or interest in the contested area to appeal the determination of the survey to an administrative law judge.  Landowners are also able to file for a modified Color-of-Title Act land patent request for public land that has been held in good faith and in peaceful adverse possession for $1.25 per acre.

• Preventing any contested land from being included in the Resource Management Plan outside of the provisions in the bill.

• Requiring the BLM to sell the remaining federal lands along the Red River at no less than market value and setting forth procedures for offering adjacent landowners the first rights of refusal. The bill also explicitly states that nothing in the Act shall be construed to modify the Red River Boundary Compact  and that the interest of Texas and Oklahoma and the sovereignty rights of the federally recognized Indian tribes north of the South Bank boundary line will not be affected.