State Capital Highlights

Texas Press Association

AUSTIN — When a temperamental river with mud banks and sand bars defines the border between two states or two countries, there’s a natural potential for conflict between humans on both sides of it.

And so, a 140-acre plot of land along the Red River border between Texas and Oklahoma became a growing news topic last week. That particular plot is within some 90,000 acres of land along a 116-mile stretch of the river that has some people worried about federal tinkering with border.

While the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) stated it is not expanding federal holdings along the river and is not involved in litigation between two landowners vying for the 140 acres, a lineup of lawmakers floated statements on the issue.

Gov. Rick Perry called what was going on a federal land grab. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said what the BLM is doing makes his blood boil. Attorney General Greg Abbott blasted what he termed a “potential seizure of land that rightfully belongs to Texas landowners.” Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples urged the BLM “to immediately cease any attempt to seize private lands from Texas citizens.”

U.S. Congressional District 13 Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Amarillo, whose sprawling district includes those 116 miles, wrote to the BLM in January to head off the threat of potential losses to Texas landowners. In a reply to Thornberry dated March 17, a BLM official wrote “… there are no claims to Federal land south of the gradient bank of the river, and no claims to Federal land in the State of Texas as defined by multiple rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The letter to Thornberry, signed by Steven G. Tryon of the BLM’s Tulsa, Okla., field office, went on to state that the agency’s short-term goals involve installing signs in a certain previously surveyed area, cleaning up federal land that is already charted, checking the land to see that the signs remain in place and to work with an Oklahoma state agency to plan the cleanup of oil field equipment “dated back to the 1910s and 1920s” on federal land in Oklahoma that is north of Burkburnett, Texas.

Also on the subject of land and water, U.S. Drought Monitor statistics released April 24 show Hardeman, Wilbarger and Wichita counties, and part of Clay County, all of which border the Red River along the 116 miles mentioned previously are in exceptional drought. 
Also in exceptional drought are the across-the-river Oklahoma counties of Harmon, Jackson, Tillman and part of Cotton County.
Panel to study coastal barriers
House Speaker Joe Straus on April 25 named 11 legislators to the Joint Interim Committee to Study a Coastal Barrier System.
Straus said the committee will study the effects of recent changes made to the Texas Open Beaches Act, a law that grants the public a free and unrestricted right to access state-owned beaches and a right to use any public beach extending from the line of mean low tide to the line of vegetation bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
House Bill 3459, signed into law last year, created a process allowing the land commissioner to suspend the designation of a new line of vegetation for three years. 
The committee also will examine the feasibility and desirability of maintaining a coastal barrier system in Texas and of authorizing coastal property owners to grant easements to governmental entities to build and maintain stabilized dunes.
Unemployment rate drops
Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent in March, down two-tenths of a percentage point from February’s rate of 5.7 percent, Texas Workforce Commission announced April 18.
Employers added 9,100 jobs in March for a total of 310,000 jobs added over the year and the annual growth rate for total nonagricultural employment has remained at or above 2.6 percent since January 2012, the agency said.
Runoffs set for May 27
April 28 was the last day to register to voice in the May 27 primary runoff elections. According to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, “If a voter voted in the primary election, the voter must vote in the same political party runoff election. If a voter did not vote in the primary election, the voter may still vote in the runoff election and for the party of their choice.”


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