Texas landowners who live along a river separating them from Oklahoma have reached a settlement with federal officials saying the Texas border lies with the meandering flow of the river.
A federal judge on Wednesday approved the terms that settle a long-running dispute involving the Bureau of Land Management and property owners along the Red River. The BLM had argued the river has shifted as much as 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) in some areas over the past century, and some of the dry land where the river once flowed belonged to the government, not residents who claimed ownership. Robert Henneke, a lawyer for the landowners, says the agency's claims amounted to an unlawful federal land grab.
The clash, which dates to at least 2009, had raised the ire of Republicans who saw the case as an example of federal overreach, leading Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and state Land Commissioner George P. Bush to criticize the BLM's actions.
"Texas families owned and worked the land at the heart of this matter for generations, until the unfair attempt to seize it," Bush said in a statement. "The (Texas General) Land Office had held mineral rights to this land, on behalf of our children and future Texans, for nearly two centuries. Texans have always defended our land and our rights."
The landowners filed a lawsuit in 2015, and were later joined by the state and other parties, after BLM surveyors set markers appearing to lay claim to private land. The land in question spanned 116 miles (187 kilometers) and involved up to 90,000 acres (36,422 hectares), according to Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and who represented the landowners.
Attempts to reach the BLM for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Henneke said the settlement contains three provisions, including the one dictating that the river, wherever it may flow now and in decades to come, constitutes the boundary. Federal officials will dismiss the land surveys that were previously done, Henneke said, and the BLM will issue a disclaimer on maps the agency previously released showing federal boundaries that extended into Texas.
When the lawsuit was filed, agency spokeswoman had said that BLM was committed to "working with adjacent landowners, counties and other stakeholders through our ongoing planning process to properly identify the extent of federal holdings in the Red River."
But Henneke said some landowners have worked land that's been in their family, unchanged, for generations, and have paid taxes on that property.
"It was part of the absurdity of the case standing in the middle of a pasture with cattle nearby looking at the federal marker that's supposed to mark the river," he said Thursday.