Texas Agriculture April 21, 2017 : Page 18

Bureau of Land Management admits mistakes in Red River surveys By Jessica Domel Multimedia Editor After years of battling the fed-eral Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Red River landowners have learned the federal agency incor-rectly conducted the surveys they used to determine their claim on land along the river. The admission came after a re-cent deposition in a landowner law-suit against BLM and the federal government. “We’re pleased the Bureau of Land Management has done the right thing by admitting that the land surveys do not take the move-ment of the Red River into consid-eration,” Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) President Russell Boening said. “TFB has been involved in this situation for years. We take it very seriously when government decides that private property no longer be-longs to those who have purchased, paid taxes and hold titles to it.” Over time, the Red River banks change drastically. Due to a pre-vious court case, the BLM was awarded Texas land near the river. Several years ago, the BLM began surveying that land and claimed additional land as the re-sult of the river’s movement. That land had been paid for and cared for by Texas landowners for generations. “When this was brought to our attention by TFB member Tommy Henderson, we knew we had to act,” Boening said. “We sent a video crew to Tommy’s place to document his fight for family land along the river. That video went viral and brought much-needed light to the situation.” Since then, a group of eight landowners, the State of Texas, the General Land office, three Texas counties and a county sheriff have brought suit against the BLM and the federal government to protect property rights. Robert Henneke, general counsel for the case, said BLM’s admission affirms what Texas landowners While the legal challenge moves forward through the court systems, Texas lawmakers are working on a legislative fix. Congressman Mac Thornberry and Senator John Cornyn have twice introduced legislation in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate that would require the bureau to clarify its surveying techniques. “One of the problems from the very beginning of this case has been that the Bureau of Land Man-agement claimed territory inside Texas along this 116-mile disputed area, but would never survey it. They would never specifically iden-tify what that claim was,” Henneke said. The Red River Gradient Bound-ary Survey Act, if passed, would establish a fair and balanced pro-cess to conduct an accurate survey of the land along the Red River to find the proper boundary between public and private ownership. “What Chairman Thornberry and Senators Cruz and Cornyn’s legislation would do is take the sur-veying authority in this area away from the Bureau of Land Man-agement and give it to Texas and Oklahoma to go out and establish a current, correct boundary line,” Henneke said. “Moving forward, that would assist to help remove the cloud of title and to reaffirm what everybody knows where the boundary is between Texas private property and federal interests in Oklahoma.” The legislation passed the House in a 250-171 vote. It awaits consid-eration in the Senate. Even if the legislation is passed this session, the Red River land-owners’ lawsuit will still move for-ward as the government continues its claims along the Red River. “We, the Texas-Oklahoma Boundary Commission, thought we had fixed this back in 2000,” Hen-derson said. “If it was a football game, you’d say they ran around the end zone, but they stepped out of bounds.” Tommy Henderson, a Red River landowner with a previous land case with the BLM, weighs in on recent developments. The Bureau of Land Management admitted they incorrectly conducted the surveys they used to determine their claim on land along the Red River. have been saying for some time. “The bureau was wrong in how it was claiming territory along the Red River,” Henneke, who is also director for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Founda-tion (TPPF), said. “Speaking for my clients, the coalition of landown-ers and counties along the area, certainly this is a very positive development. It doesn’t end the litigation, but it’s a very significant concession by the government that weighs in our favor.” Henneke said he and his clients are encouraged by the news. “We’re still preparing for trial, but see this as a major event in the case,” Henneke said. Michael White, TFB state direc-tor for the area, said it’s a step in the right direction. “It will help clear up that the property is still owned by private landowners in the state of Texas,” White said. “From the start of all of this, it’s just been a tough situa-tion for the landowners because it’s put a hardship on them as far as this land being in question. It’s cost landowners time, money and taxes that have been paid. It’s put doubt in people’s minds. I think it was an unnecessary problem that should have never come up.” Although the BLM has admitted it did not take the movement of the Red River into account when con-ducting the surveys, BLM has not yet rescinded the surveys. Instead, they’ve been suspended for further consideration. BLM reserves the right to re-implement the surveys. “They have not given up on their position that they own land inside of Texas that overlaps with private property,” Henneke said. The landowners’ case against BLM is still set to begin in U.S. Dis-trict Judge Reed O’Connor’s court-room in July. The case will likely be heard in Wichita Falls. 18 A PRIL 21 , 2017

Bureau of Land Management Admits Mistakes in Red River Surveys

Jessica Domel

After years of battling the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Red River landowners have learned the federal agency incorrectly conducted the surveys they used to determine their claim on land along the river.

The admission came after a recent deposition in a landowner lawsuit against BLM and the federal government.

“We’re pleased the Bureau of Land Management has done the right thing by admitting that the land surveys do not take the movement of the Red River into consideration,” Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) President Russell Boening said. “TFB has been involved in this situation for years. We take it very seriously when government decides that private property no longer belongs to those who have purchased, paid taxes and hold titles to it.”

Over time, the Red River banks change drastically. Due to a previous court case, the BLM was awarded Texas land near the river.

Several years ago, the BLM began surveying that land and claimed additional land as the result of the river’s movement.

That land had been paid for and cared for by Texas landowners for generations.

“When this was brought to our attention by TFB member Tommy Henderson, we knew we had to act,” Boening said. “We sent a video crew to Tommy’s place to document his fight for family land along the river. That video went viral and brought much-needed light to the situation.”

Since then, a group of eight landowners, the State of Texas, the General Land office, three Texas counties and a county sheriff have brought suit against the BLM and the federal government to protect property rights.

Robert Henneke, general counsel for the case, said BLM’s admission affirms what Texas landowners have been saying for some time.

“The bureau was wrong in how it was claiming territory along the Red River,” Henneke, who is also director for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), said. “Speaking for my clients, the coalition of landowners and counties along the area, certainly this is a very positive development. It doesn’t end the litigation, but it’s a very significant concession by the government that weighs in our favor.”

Henneke said he and his clients are encouraged by the news.

“We’re still preparing for trial, but see this as a major event in the case,” Henneke said.

Michael White, TFB state director for the area, said it’s a step in the right direction.

“It will help clear up that the property is still owned by private landowners in the state of Texas,” White said. “From the start of all of this, it’s just been a tough situation for the landowners because it’s put a hardship on them as far as this land being in question. It’s cost landowners time, money and taxes that have been paid. It’s put doubt in people’s minds. I think it was an unnecessary problem that should have never come up.”

Although the BLM has admitted it did not take the movement of the Red River into account when conducting the surveys, BLM has not yet rescinded the surveys. Instead, they’ve been suspended for further consideration. BLM reserves the right to re-implement the surveys.

“They have not given up on their position that they own land inside of Texas that overlaps with private property,” Henneke said.

The landowners’ case against BLM is still set to begin in U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s courtroom in July. The case will likely be heard in Wichita Falls.

While the legal challenge moves forward through the court systems, Texas lawmakers are working on a legislative fix.

Congressman Mac Thornberry and Senator John Cornyn have twice introduced legislation in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate that would require the bureau to clarify its surveying techniques.

“One of the problems from the very beginning of this case has been that the Bureau of Land Management claimed territory inside Texas along this 116-mile disputed area, but would never survey it. They would never specifically identify what that claim was,” Henneke said.

The Red River Gradient Boundary Survey Act, if passed, would establish a fair and balanced process to conduct an accurate survey of the land along the Red River to find the proper boundary between public and private ownership.

“What Chairman Thornberry and Senators Cruz and Cornyn’s legislation would do is take the surveying authority in this area away from the Bureau of Land Management and give it to Texas and Oklahoma to go out and establish a current, correct boundary line,” Henneke said. “Moving forward, that would assist to help remove the cloud of title and to reaffirm what everybody knows where the boundary is between Texas private property and federal interests in Oklahoma.”

The legislation passed the House in a 250-171 vote. It awaits consideration in the Senate.

Even if the legislation is passed this session, the Red River landowners’ lawsuit will still move forward as the government continues its claims along the Red River.

“We, the Texas-Oklahoma Boundary Commission, thought we had fixed this back in 2000,” Henderson said. “If it was a football game, you’d say they ran around the end zone, but they stepped out of bounds.”

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/Bureau+of+Land+Management+Admits+Mistakes+in+Red+River+Surveys+/2765439/401730/article.html.

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