WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Tuesday approved a bill that supporters say would block the federal government from improperly seizing control of hundreds of thousands of acres along the Red River in Texas and Oklahoma.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, sponsored the bill in response to complaints from property owners that the federal Bureau of Land Management was seeking control of disputed land along a 116-mile stretch of river. The Red River separates the two states.
The land management agency says the sandy river has eroded and shifted as much as 2 miles in some areas over the past century, and some of the dry land where the river once flowed belongs to the government. The bill's opponents, mainly Democrats, said the measure would strip the interior secretary of authority over federally owned land and could negatively affect Native American tribes who own mineral rights in the area.
Property owners disagree and call the agency's claims a classic government "land grab." The property owners say they are taking back land that rightfully belongs to them and for which they have paid taxes, in some cases for generations.
The bill approved by the House Tuesday would commission a survey of the disputed area under a method backed by the Supreme Court. The surveys would be conducted by licensed and qualified surveyors chosen by Texas and Oklahoma. The bill was approved 250-171 and now goes to the Senate.
"This bill essentially requires the Bureau of Land Management to do what they should have done all along" and conduct a proper survey, Thornberry said, calling the House vote "an important step toward providing these landowners with the legal certainty they deserve."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the proposed survey long overdue and said he would push for a quick vote in the Senate.
"This bill can finally end the baseless claims the federal government has made over privately owned property along the Red River," Cornyn said. "Texas families who have lived along the river for generations deserve to know they're protected from a federal land grab."