Ken Aderholt’s house could be in the middle of the Red River — at least according to the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Never mind that his house sits well outside any land that water touches. Never mind that his family has ranched the land for generations. Never mind that the area includes 100-year-old trees.
If BLM says it’s in the river, Aderholt’s only recourse is to take the federal government to court.
We at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for the American Future represent Anderholt and other landowners in a lawsuit to stop this federal land grab and bring some much-needed certainty to Texas landowners along the Red River.
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According to a 1923 Supreme Court decision, Texas owns the land up to the south bank of the Red River, but the riverbed belongs to the federal government.
If the BLM decides that Aderholt’s house is in the river (and all indications point to the fact that it will) then the United States government will take ownership of the property.
In the meantime, the BLM is just pretending that it owns the property for planning purposes.
That’s right. The BLM hasn’t determined whether it owns the property, but it is putting together a land-use plan anyway.
The adoption of that plan would have devastating effects for Aderholt. Using property in violation of a BLM approved land-use management plan is a crime punishable by up to a year in prison.
This has left Aderholt with land that he can’t use without fear of criminal penalties, can’t sell, can’t borrow against to make improvements and has no real reason to invest in.
Potentially hundreds of landowners along a 116-mile stretch of the Red River in North Texas are in a similar predicament.
Many of these families have held title to their land for generations. Suddenly in 2014, the BLM began notifying these landowners that their families’ lands were allegedly owned by the BLM.
The origin of the problem is an erroneous survey conducted by the BLM in 2008.
Kevin Hunter and Patrick Canan were among the first property owners whose land was surveyed. Without telling them what they were doing on the property, BLM agents drove stakes into the ground marking where BLM claimed the south bank of the river was.
Those stakes are, at various intervals, more than a mile south of the running water of the river. To get to what any rational person would consider the edge of the river from these stakes you would have to travel over acres of scrub brush, hills, forests and ranch land.
Nonetheless, BLM claims all of that is riverbed, and the federal government owns it.
The BLM never finished its survey, but that hasn’t stopped it from claiming the surrounding land anyway.
The BLM recently began holding meetings to discuss its land use management plan for this property.
Last month, property owners met with BLM officials in North Texas to discuss their concerns, namely: 1) how did BLM determine that the riverbank was so far south of the water, and 2) was BLM actually going to survey the rest of the property it is claiming to own before it starts enforcing its management plan?
Working out a living from the land in North Texas is an endeavor already beset by countless natural variables. Dealing with a rogue federal agency arbitrarily laying claim to your property shouldn’t be one of them.
Chance Weldon is an attorney with the Center for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.