Category Archives: Property Rights

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Planned pipeline clears federal hurdle

Opponents of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, the 143-mile long natural gas pipeline scheduled to be built near Texas’ Big Bend region were delivered a blow this week when federal regulators said they would not delay or block the planned project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an environmental assessment Monday that focused on the 1,093-foot portion of the proposed pipeline that crosses the Rio Grande River and stated that the project “would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

The 42-inch-wide pipeline will carry liquefied natural gas from central Texas (near Fort Stockton) cutting through 47 miles of Pecos County, 33 miles of Brewster County and 63 miles of Presidio County before crossing beneath the Rio Grande near the town of Presidio. The pipeline could carry up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of gas to Mexico daily.

The opponents of the project include Big Bend area ranchers, environmentalists and landowners. While the ranchers and environmental activists make for unlikely bedfellows, the group shares fears that the pipeline will tarnish what many consider the most beautiful acreage in the Lone Star State, and will bring added risk for wildfires explosions. Others simply fear losing their land via eminent domain. These opponents flooded the FERC with more than 600 letters in the fall of 2015, citing legal, environmental and public safety objections.

Commissioned by the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad, or CFE, Mexico’s state-owned electric utility), the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is part of Mexico’s plan to modernize its energy system. The natural gas provided by the pipe will help many border town residents to stop using coal, wood and heating oil, and instead use the cleaner fuel source.

The two energy companies contracted to manage the project are an international syndicate that include Mexico-based Carso, and Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). Spokespeople for ETP and supporters of the project champion the fact that the pipeline will bring jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue to West Texas.

While the pipeline will carry resources over—or in this case, under—an international border, it is key to note that the FERC will only have oversight of the 1,093-foot stretch of pipeline passing under the Rio Grande. This section is the only section designated as “interstate”. The remaining 143 miles of pipeline will be regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, as it is designated an “intrastate” pipeline.

The full application for the project is still pending and public comment can be made through February 3, 2016. Should federal regulators follow this week’s recommendations and approve the project, opponents say they plan to challenge the decision in federal court.

To read about the Trans-Pecos pipeline on the project website, click here.

For more on the impact to the local community, click here.

Texas General Land Office Intervenes in BLM Suit; Land Commissioner to Feds: “Don’t Mess with Texas”

For seven North Texas Families along the Red River that continue their fight against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, more help is on the way.

The families got a boost last week when Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush officially filed documents in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas requesting to join in the families’ lawsuit that charges the BLM with perpetuating an “arbitrary seizure” of land along the Texas side of the river.

The BLM claims that the 116-mile stretch along the river is federal land, which the agency says has been under its control since the Louisiana Purchase. Bush views it as a blatant land grab, and argues that the land, more specifically 113 acres in Wilbarger County, and the mineral rights associated with it, belong to the GLO. The Land Commissioner also claims that the tract is part of the Texas Permanent School Fund, the land mechanism designed in 1876 to aid in the financing of the state’s public schools.

The GLO initially owned the rights to about 78 acres along the river in Wilbarger County. Due to the natural, gradual northward movement, the acreage expanded to 113 acres, and it is these additional 35 acres that the federal agency claims as theirs.

While no one has developed the land to mine for minerals, Bush claims that he had no other option but to join the suit and fight against what he calls a dangerous slippery slope that would threaten Texas’ entire oil and gas portfolio.

“Our primary responsibility here at the General Land Office throughout the course of the state’s history is to be the asset manager and the fiduciary for 13 million acres, which provides a large source of revenue to our public school systems K through 12 and secondary education,” Bush said Monday, November 30. “It’s a vital role, and one we take very seriously, and pursuant to the claims the Bureau of Land Management is laying out to not only affect private land ownership in the vicinity of the Red River but also state acreage, we will file a complaint that will lay out in specific detail the state’s acreage, namely mineral rights in the vicinity of the Red River that are subject to potential land taking.”

The dispute over the land boiled over in December of 2013 when BLM representatives arrived in North Texas to discuss their plans for managing the acreage for the next two decades. The federal agency has said its claim stems from a 1923 Supreme Court decision that defined the boundaries of Texas and Oklahoma and assigned some land in between to the feds.

But Texans, like the families who have filed this current suit, have long held deeds and paid property taxes on this land. Moreover, the bureau has not fully surveyed the area, making it unclear where the public and private boundaries lie.

Bush is the latest Texas official to weigh in on the issue, accusing the Bureau of poorly articulating their claim. In August, I wrote about how U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) is tackling this issue in Congress, (if you missed it, here’s the story).

To read the GLO’s complaint in intervention, visit here.

To read the GLO’s motion to intervene, visit here.

For a graphic of the location of the land in question, visit here.

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Thirty years later, farmer regains land from BLM

Three decades after losing 94 acres of property that had been in his family since the Civil War in a dispute with the Bureau of Land Management, Clay County farmer Tommy Henderson regained his acreage, and many landowners along the Red River have taken note.

Henderson’s property is a small portion of the long-disputed 30,000 acres that span 116 miles along the Texas/Oklahoma border. Federal officials claim that the land has been under federal control since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Landowners, however, say that the feds have only surveyed around 6,500 acres, and used methods that differ greatly from the accepted gradient boundaries survey method established by the Supreme Court in the 1920s. In addition, landowners along the stretch hold deeds to and continue to pay taxes on the land they and their families have worked for generations.

For Henderson, the boundary dispute that had dragged on since 1984 came to a favorable end in early August after he had worked with the Texas Farm Bureau, Clay County officials, representatives from the BLM and U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon). At the Clay County Courthouse, Henderson signed a federal patent for the land, actually purchasing the land for $1 per acre under a “Color of Title” stipulation that enables landowners the chance to purchase after showing a clear title, payment of taxes, improvements and “good faith” possession. Henderson was encouraged after the diligent struggle, claiming that his case will help his neighboring landowners.

“This blazes the trail,” he said. “I hope it will help remove a cloud that’s been over these titles.”

Congressman Thornberry was also satisfied and encouraged by the event.

“It is good that Mr. Henderson was finally able to get back a portion of his land that he lost in the 1980s, but it never should have happened in the first place,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry, who represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas that stretches from the Panhandle to the outskirts of the DFW Metroplex and spans the Texas side of the Red River, has strongly come down on the side of Texas landowners in their struggle with the BLM. He said he plans to continue to pursue legislation he and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) filed to help protect these citizens and the land they hold dear.

“I am continuing to pursue legislation that I introduced with Sen. John Cornyn to protect private property rights and clear up the uncertainty that many landowners along the Red River currently face,” Thornberry said in a released statement.

The legislation, known as the Red River Private Property Protection Act, has been adjusted from the original bill filed during the last session of Congress following several town halls along the river and input from landowners. Officially known as H.R. 2130 in the U.S. House and S. 1153 in the U.S. Senate, the legislation aims to protect private property rights along the Red River from federal ownership claims. By providing legal certainty to landowners, the Act also seeks to end questions about the federal government’s ownership of other disputed land along the Red River. Landowners are applauding their local congressman’s efforts thus far.

“Mac did a good job about contacting everybody because it is going to take landowners participating in this process to make this work,” said Jimmy Smith, another landowner along the river who finds himself in a similar situation to Henderson. “If Mac can get this passed and get this through and surveyed by a private surveyor like he was talking about and they can get it done it, would alleviate the BLM from being in our backyards,” said Smith.

To follow the legislation as it works through the 113th U.S. Congress, click here.