Thornberry Introduces Legislation to Protect Property Rights

Texas - U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn introduced legislation today in the U.S. House and Senate, H.R. 2130 and S. 1153 respectively, to protect private property rights along the Red River from federal ownership claims.

By providing legal certainty to landowners, the Red River Private Property Protection Act seeks to end questions about the federal government's ownership of disputed land along the Red River.

"Private landowners deserve absolute clarity from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a fair resolution to this issue. Until that happens, we will not let up in our efforts to assure landowners that their private property rights along the Red River will be protected," Thornberry said. "Our bills should be a signal that Republicans in the House and Senate will continue to fight the federal government's intrusion into people's private property. This type of overreach seems to be happening more often, but we will fight it every step of the way."

Many landowners and other public officials are alarmed that BLM actions might result in disputed claims of ownership. Since concern first arose in December 2013, Thornberry's and Cornyn'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 bill they introduced in the last session of Congress. The new legislation reflects the input they received by listening to landowners, the Texas General Land Office, and many others.

"Many of these affected Texans have owned land along the Red River for generations, but are now caught up in the confusion and clouded titles due to the BLM's claims. This commonsense legislation establishes a process to resolve the uncertainty, and protects these taxpayers' property rights from improper federal claims," Cornyn said.

Thornberry and Cornyn 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. The stretch of land is located in Wilbarger, Wichita, and Clay counties.

"Strong property rights are a cornerstone of our most basic freedoms. Unfortunately, BLM continues to seek control of privately-owned lands along the Red River. We must protect landowners from federal overreach, and I am proud to once again join Sen. Cornyn and Congressman Thornberry in introducing legislation that will prevent the federal government from unlawfully encroaching upon private property rights," Sen. Cruz said.

Original cosponsors of the bills include: Sen. Cruz, Reps. Carter, McCaul, and Gohmert.

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 Texas and Oklahoma.  

Ordering that the survey be conducted by Licensed State Land Surveyors chosen by the Texas General Land Office, and the final survey must ultimately be approved by the State.

Allowing landowners who hold the proper right, title, and/or interest in the contested area to appeal any further public domain claims by BLM through an Administrative Law Judge.

Preventing any contested land from being included in the Resource Management Plan until the survey is complete and private land is no longer subject to an appeal.

Requiring BLM to 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 sovereignty rights of the federally recognized Indian tribes north of the Texas State boundary line will not be affected.