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                                                     Calendar No. 690
115th Congress       }                        {               Report
                                 SENATE
 2d Session          }                        {               115-403

======================================================================



 
                LAKE BISTINEAU LAND TITLE STABILITY ACT

                                _______
                                

                December 4, 2018.--Ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

  Ms. Murkowski, from the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 
                        submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                         [To accompany S. 1219]

      [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]

    The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to which was 
referred the bill (S. 1219) to provide for stability of title 
to certain land in the State of Louisiana, and for other 
purposes, having considered the same, reports favorably thereon 
with an amendment in the nature of a substitute and recommends 
that the bill, as amended, do pass.
    The amendment is as follows:
    1. Strike all after the enacting clause and insert the 
following:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ``Lake Bistineau Land Title Stability 
Act''.

SEC. 2. DEFINITIONS.

    In this Act:
          (1) Claimant.--The term ``claimant'' means any individual, 
        group, or corporation authorized to hold title to land or 
        mineral interests in land in the State of Louisiana with a 
        valid claim to the omitted land, including any mineral 
        interests.
          (2) Map.--The term ``Map'' means the map entitled ``Lands as 
        Delineated by Original Survey December 18, 1842 showing the 
        1969 Meander Line at the 148.6 Elevation Line'' and dated 
        January 30, 2018.
          (3) Omitted land.--
                  (A) In general.--The term ``omitted land'' means the 
                land in lots 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 of sec. 30, 
                T. 16 N., R. 10 W., Louisiana Meridian, comprising a 
                total of approximately 229.72 acres, as depicted on the 
                Map, that--
                          (i) was in place during the Original Survey; 
                        but
                          (ii) was not included in the Original Survey.
                  (B) Inclusion.--The term ``omitted land'' includes--
                          (i) Peggy's Island in lot 1 of sec. 17, T. 16 
                        N., R. 10 W., Louisiana Meridian; and
                          (ii) Hog Island in lot 1 of sec. 29 , T. 16 
                        N., R. 10 W., Louisiana Meridian.
          (4) Original survey.--The term ``Original Survey'' means the 
        survey of land surrounding Lake Bistineau, Louisiana, conducted 
        by the General Land Office in 1838 and approved by the Surveyor 
        General on December 8, 1842.
          (5) Secretary.--The term ``Secretary'' means the Secretary of 
        the Interior.

SEC. 3. CONVEYANCES.

    (a) In General.--Consistent with the first section of the Act of 
December 22, 1928 (commonly known as the ``Color of Title Act'') (45 
Stat. 1069, chapter 47; 43 U.S.C. 1068), except as provided by this 
Act, the Secretary shall convey to the claimant the omitted land, 
including any mineral interests, that has been held in good faith and 
in peaceful, adverse possession by a claimant or an ancestor or grantor 
of the claimant, under claim or color of title, based on the Original 
Survey.
    (b) Confirmation of Title.--The conveyance or patent of omitted 
land to a claimant under subsection (a) shall have the effect of 
confirming title to the surface and minerals in the claimant and shall 
not serve as any admission by a claimant.

SEC. 4. PAYMENT OF COSTS.

    (a) In General.--Except as provided in subsection (b), the 
conveyance required under section 3 shall be without consideration.
    (b) Exception.--Before the conveyance of the omitted land under 
section 3, the claimant shall pay to the Secretary any costs incurred 
by the Secretary relating to any survey, platting, legal description, 
or associated activities required to prepare and issue a patent under 
that section.

SEC. 5. MAP AND LEGAL DESCRIPTION.

    As soon as practicable after the date of enactment of this Act, the 
Secretary shall file, and make available for public inspection in the 
appropriate offices of the Bureau of Land and Management, the Map and 
legal descriptions of the omitted land to be conveyed under section 3.

                                PURPOSE

    The purpose of S. 1219 is to provide for stability of title 
to certain land in the State of Louisiana.

                          BACKGROUND AND NEED

    In 1842, the U.S. government completed a survey of lands in 
the State of Louisiana that included the area surrounding Lake 
Bistineau. Using the survey's results, Louisiana delineated its 
ownership of lands under the Equal Footing Doctrine and 
transferred 7,000 acres of land around Lake Bistineau to the 
Commissioners of the Bossier Levee District in 1901. Three 
years later, the Commissioners of the Bossier Levee District 
conveyed this land to private ownership.
    In September 1967, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) re-
surveyed this land and two additional islands in the Lake. This 
survey presented a new boundary-line based on what the BLM 
believed was the size of Lake Bistineau when Louisiana was 
admitted to the Union in 1812. Although BLM published a notice 
in the Federal Register two years later stating that this new 
survey occurred, many affected landowners were unaware of the 
new survey and their resulting clouded title.
    Almost 50 years later, in September 2013, BLM notified 
landowners that their property appeared ``to be still vested in 
the United States'' based on the results of the 1967 survey. 
Since then, the Federal government and over 100 private 
landowners, with over 50 homes, have been in a dispute over the 
ownership of roughly 200 acres of land. S. 1219 seeks to remove 
the cloud from the landowners' title.

                          LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

    S. 1219 was introduced by Senator Cassidy on May 24, 2017. 
The Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a 
hearing on S. 1219 on August 22, 2018.
    A companion measure, H.R. 3392, was introduced in the House 
of Representatives by Congressman Johnson on July 25, 2017. 
H.R. 3392 was ordered reported by the Natural Resources 
Committee, as amended, on April 11, 2018 (H. Rept. 115-768). 
The measure passed the House of Representatives by voice vote 
on June 25, 2018.
    In the 114th Congress, Congressman Fleming introduced a 
similar measure, H.R. 3342, in the House of Representatives on 
July 29, 2015. The Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee 
on Federal Lands held a hearing on H.R. 3342 on November 11, 
2015. The Natural Resources Committee favorably reported H.R. 
3342 on September 6, 2016 (H. Rept. 114-716).
    The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources met in 
open business session on October 2, 2018, and ordered S. 1219 
favorable reported, as amended.

                        COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION

    The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in 
open business session on October 2, 2018, by a majority voice 
vote of a quorum present, recommends that the Senate pass S. 
1219, if amended as described herein.

                          COMMITTEE AMENDMENT

    During its consideration of S. 1219, the Committee adopted 
an amendment in the nature of a substitute. The substitute 
amendment strikes the findings and modifies the method to 
clarify the clouded title by directing the Secretary of the 
Interior (Secretary) to use the Color-of-Title Act (43 U.S.C. 
1068) to convey the surface and mineral estate to the affected 
claimants.

                      SECTION-BY-SECTION ANALYSIS

Section 1. Short title

    Section 1 provides a short title.

Section 2. Definitions

    Section 2 defines key terms.

Section 3. Conveyances

    Section 3 directs the Secretary to convey omitted land, 
including any mineral interests, to claimants pursuant to the 
Color-of-Title Act based on the Original Survey. This section 
further makes clear that conveyance of omitted land shall 
confirm the title to the surface and minerals and does not 
serve as an admission by the claimant.

Section 4. Payment of costs

    Section 4 directs the Secretary to make the conveyance to 
the claimants without consideration but requires a claimant to 
pay any patent-related costs to the Secretary prior to the 
conveyance.

Section 5. Map and legal description

    Section 5 directs the Secretary to file and make publically 
available the map and legal description of the omitted land to 
be conveyed.

                   COST AND BUDGETARY CONSIDERATIONS

    The following estimate of the costs of this measure has 
been provided by the Congressional Budget Office:
    S. 1219 would require the Secretary of the Interior to 
convey, without consideration, roughly 230 acres of land and 
associated minerals near Lake Bistineau in northwest Louisiana. 
Using information from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the 
Energy Information Administration (EIA), the oil and gas 
industry, the state of Louisiana, and other interested parties, 
CBO estimates that enacting the bill would reduce offsetting 
receipts, which are treated as reductions in direct spending, 
by about $1 million over the 2019-2028 period.
    Because enacting S. 1219 would affect direct spending, pay-
as-you-go procedures apply. Enacting the bill would not affect 
revenues.
    CBO estimates that enacting S. 1219 would not increase net 
direct spending or on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion 
in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 
2029.
    S. 1219 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector 
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.

Background

    The affected lands were omitted from a federal land survey 
in 1842. The state of Louisiana subsequently deeded those lands 
to the Bossier Levee District, which transferred them to 
private individuals. Following a resurvey of the area published 
in 1969, BLM determined that the lands, which were then held 
privately, fell under federal jurisdiction. In recent years, 
BLM and private titleholders have each claimed ownership of the 
affected lands and the subsurface mineral estate; however, the 
private titleholders are not currently pursuing any remedy 
other than legislation similar to S. 1219.

Royalties from ongoing gas production

    The affected lands contain one active natural gas well. The 
well's operator has suspended royalty payments because of the 
perceived uncertainty about ownership of the royalty interest. 
Using information from Louisiana, CBO estimates that the 
royalties due to the federal government for gas produced from 
that land total less than $500,000. In addition, CBO estimates 
that any royalties generated from future production of gas from 
the existing well would total less than $10,000 over the next 
10 years. Under the Mineral Leasing Act, 49 percent of those 
amounts would be paid to Louisiana. Because of the uncertainty 
regarding when the lease operator will deem the ownership of 
the affected minerals resolved and make royalty payments to the 
federal government, CBO estimates that there is a 50 percent 
probability that those payments will be made over the next 10 
years. Thus, enacting S. 1219, which would result in BLM's 
disclaiming ownership of the royalty interest, would reduce 
expected offsetting receipts by less than $125,000 over the 
2019-2028 period.

Royalties from new gas production

    The affected lands make up about one-third of a production 
unit, which consists of one square mile of land and the 
associated minerals. Based on information regarding the average 
number of wells drilled on production units in northwest 
Louisiana, CBO expects that between three and five additional 
wells could be drilled on the unit and that each would produce 
about 4 billion cubic feet of gas, nearly all within the first 
10 years. That additional production would only occur if gas 
prices are high enough to make new production economical.
    Using information provided by EIA and individuals working 
in the oil and gas industry, CBO expects that new drilling will 
not occur on the affected lands unless gas prices at the 
wellhead exceed $3.50 per thousand cubic feet (mcf). Under 
CBO's April 2018 baseline, gas prices are not expected to 
exceed that amount at any point over the next 10 years. 
However, CBO's baseline projections of gas prices in each year 
represent the midpoint of a range of possible prices. CBO 
estimates that the probability that prices will be high enough 
to spur new production on the affected lands over the next 10 
years ranges from 18 percent to 27 percent in each year and 
that the average wellhead price under those scenarios would 
range from $5/mcf to $6/mcf.
    Because of the perceived uncertainty concerning the 
ownership of associated resources, CBO estimates that there is 
a 50 percent probability that the federal government will 
receive no royalty payments from new wells over the next 10 
years, either because operators would choose not to drill new 
wells or because they would suspend royalty payments on new 
production. After accounting for a range of scenarios with 
different prices and production volumes, CBO estimates that the 
expected gross federal royalties from new wells on the affected 
lands would range from $1 million to $2 million over the next 
10 years. Of those amounts, 49 percent would be paid to 
Louisiana. On that basis, CBO estimates that, on net, enacting 
S. 1219 would reduce offsetting receipts from royalties paid on 
production from new wells by between $500,000 and $1 million 
over the 2019-2028 period.

Uncertainty

    CBO aims to produce estimates that generally reflect the 
middle of a range of the most likely budgetary outcomes that 
would result if the legislation was enacted. In estimating the 
effects of S. 1219, CBO had to account for two major sources of 
uncertainty. CBO cannot predict if or when the leaseholder on 
the affected lands will deem the dispute over ownership of 
those lands settled, which will determine whether any payments 
are made to the federal government. CBO also cannot foresee 
future gas prices with certainty. The price of gas will 
determine whether additional gas is produced from the affected 
lands and when that production may occur, which will affect the 
amount and timing of any royalty payments the leaseholder would 
make to the federal government. Because of those uncertainties, 
the budgetary effects of enacting S. 1219 could differ from 
those provided in CBO's analysis.

Previous estimate

    On June 13, 2018, CBO transmitted a cost estimate for H.R. 
3392, the Lake Bistineau Land Title Stability Act, as ordered 
reported by the House Committee on Natural Resources on April 
11, 2018. The two pieces of legislation are similar, and CBO's 
estimates of their budgetary effects are the same.
    The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Janani 
Shankaran. The estimate was reviewed by H. Samuel Papenfuss, 
Deputy Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.

                      REGULATORY IMPACT EVALUATION

    In compliance with paragraph 11(b) of rule XXVI of the 
Standing Rules of the Senate, the Committee makes the following 
evaluation of the regulatory impact which would be incurred in 
carrying out S. 1219. The bill is not a regulatory measure in 
the sense of imposing Government-established standards or 
significant economic responsibilities on private individuals 
and businesses.
    No personal information would be collected in administering 
the program. Therefore, there would be no impact on personal 
privacy.
    Little, if any, additional paperwork would result from the 
enactment of S. 1219, as ordered reported.

                   CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED SPENDING

    S. 1219, as ordered reported, does not contain any 
congressionally directed spending items, limited tax benefits, 
or limited tariff benefits as defined in rule XLIV of the 
Standing Rules of the Senate.

                        EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS

    The testimony provided by the Department of the Interior at 
the February 7, 2018, hearing on S. 1219 follows:

Statement of Brian Steed, Deputy Director for Policy & Programs, Bureau 
          of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior

    The Department of the Interior (DOI) appreciates the 
opportunity to provide testimony on S. 1219, which, as drafted, 
would direct the Secretary of the Interior to convey, through a 
formal Disclaimer of Interest, any Federal Interest in lands 
adjacent to Lake Bistineau in Section 30, Township 16 North, 
Range 10 West (Section 30) Louisiana, including Peggys and Hog 
Islands. S. 1219 would eliminate the legal effect on the 
ownership of these lands of the Federal survey approved the 
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1969 and reaffirm the 
original survey approved by the General Land Office (GLO) in 
1842.
    The Department of the Interior supports the goal of 
providing stability to current residents in Section 30 near 
Lake Bistineau by resolving their land title conflicts, and 
recognizes the Sponsor's commitment to working with the 
Department on a fair and equitable resolution. As a general 
matter, Secretary Zinke is opposed to the wide-scale sale or 
transfer of Federal lands. However, the Secretary will work 
with Congress on proposals of this nature that are unique to 
local communities and would help resolve longstanding title 
conflicts.


                        federal survey authority


    The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided original authority for 
the federal government to conduct public land surveys and 
provided the mechanism for the sale and transfer of public 
domain lands. This authority was historically exercised by the 
GLO under the Department of Treasury and under the Department 
of the Interior, later becoming part of the BLM's mission. In 
addition to being the official surveyor of our nation's public 
lands, the BLM has the authority to examine the accuracy of 
surveys of Federal interest land and to execute supplemental 
surveys of areas within the public domain which may have been 
``omitted'' from an original survey. When appropriate, the BLM 
is responsible for correcting previous surveys of public lands. 
Surveys requiring corrections frequently involve cases with 
land that borders bodies of water.
    Given this enormous responsibility, the DOI is acutely 
aware that the decisions we make and the actions we take can 
have long-lasting impacts on communities all across the 
country. As such, the Department is committed to being a good 
steward of the public land which requires us to be a good 
neighbor who is responsive and adaptive to local voices.


                        lake bistineau boundary


    Lake Bistineau is located in Bienville, Bossier, and 
Webster Parishes in Louisiana and was formed when the Red River 
became blocked by an accumulation of trees and other debris 
prior to Louisiana statehood in 1812. The debris was largely 
removed in 1845, causing Lake Bistineau to reach its normal 
level. Beginning in 1935, a dam was built which recreated an 
artificial lake over much of the original (1812) lake bed. This 
lake is in place today.
    Boundaries along water bodies are called riparian 
boundaries, which typically extend to the actual water and 
change with the water level. However, in the case of Lake 
Bistineau, the boundary line does not move with the water, 
because many of the changes that occurred over time occurred 
unnaturally, such as the physical removal of debris in 1845. 
Under the Equal Footing Doctrine, the states assume title, 
including mineral rights, to beds of navigable water bodies, in 
their natural condition, up to the Ordinary High Water Mark 
(OHWM). All parties agree that the Lake is navigable.
    The State of Louisiana and the United States have managed 
the boundary of Lake Bistineau at the 148.6 contour line.


                         a complicated history


    In 1838, the GLO conducted the original subdivision survey 
of the township which includes a portion of the boundary of 
Lake Bistineau. This survey was officially approved in 1842. In 
1967, the BLM received a Color-of-Title Application (process 
described in detail below) for lands that were omitted from the 
original 1838 survey in Section 30. In response, the BLM issued 
special instructions calling for the examination and survey of 
lands bordering Lake Bistineau in Section 30. After this 
review, the BLM determined that an area of land had been 
erroneously omitted from the original survey in 1838. These 
``omitted lands,'' which accounted for nearly 230 acres, were 
identified, surveyed, and platted as public lands, pending 
completion of a public comment period and official approval by 
the BLM of the changes.
    On February 26, 1969, the BLM provided an opportunity for 
public engagement by publishing a notice of the plat filing 
from the 1967 resurvey in the Federal Register. The BLM also 
sent notice letters to several local and State entities and to 
individuals, including the original claimant, which are 
maintained in the BLM Easter States Office. The BLM did not 
receive any protests or comments during the 30-day public 
notification period. On March 31, 1969, the resurvey and 
extension to the 1838 survey line was officially filed.
    A continuing title conflict between the current residents 
and the United States was created in 1901 when the state of 
Louisiana mistakenly conveyed the omitted public lands to 
Bossier Levee District, which subsequently conveyed the lands 
to private individuals. In recent years, local residents have 
raised concerns about this situation. The title conflict is 
further complicated by active oil and gas production in the 
Section 30 omitted lands.
    In 2013, the BLM responded to a request for information 
regarding the status of the lands in this area from several of 
the individuals holding a title derived from the 1901 deed from 
the State. The BLM responded with an informational letter 
containing a brief summary of general laws and information 
contained in the BLM records. Three land holders filed an 
appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) based on 
the letter. On September 9, 2014, the IBLA dismissed the appeal 
on the basis that the letter was not a formal decision but 
rather a summary of the information contained in the BLM 
records. The appellants filed for reconsideration, and the IBLA 
issued an order upholding the dismissal on February 4, 2015.


                     public land disposal authority


Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA)
    A variety of statutes provide the BLM the authorities 
necessary to address issues and disputes in land ownership. 
Under FLPMA, the BLM is authorized to transfer or dispose of 
lands that have been identified as potentially suitable for 
disposal in an approved land use plan or through an amendment 
to an existing plan. Under FLPMA, lands may only be disposed of 
for no less than their appraised fair market value. Through 
these authorities, the BLM has been able to effectively manage 
and resolve many land use conflicts.
    In limited cases, the DOI has the authority to issue a 
Recordable Disclaimer of Interest (RDI) to resolve title 
uncertainty. In these instance, the Department provides an 
official statement that the United States has no interest in 
the lands or mineral estate. A RDI does not grant, convey, 
transfer, remise, quitclaim, release or renounce any title or 
interest in the lands, nor does a disclaimer release or 
discharge any tax, mortgage, deed of trust, or other security 
interest in lands that are held by or for the benefit of the 
United States. Further, this administrative process is used 
where lands have not been surveyed by the BLM, and it cannot be 
used in areas where there is an existing Federal interest. The 
approval of the survey in 1969 formally identified the Federal 
interest in these lands; therefore, this process is not 
applicable to this case in the absence of specific legislation 
directing the Secretary to issue an RDI.
Color-of-Title Act
    The Color-of-Title Act provides a statutory mechanism for 
the BLM to resolve certain private party claims on public land. 
Any individual, group, or corporation who presents evidence of 
having color of title--for example an instrument from a non-
Federal source which erroneously purports to convey title to 
public lands--may file a color-of-title claim with the BLM. 
Accepted filings grant the applicant a patent conveying clear 
title to the lands upon payment of a fair and reasonable sale 
price which reflects the current market value of the lands, but 
may be discounted to account for improvements made on the land 
or previous property taxes paid.
    The obligation to establish a valid color-of-title claim is 
upon the claimant and the BLM has encouraged the residents in 
the Lake Bistineau area to pursue color-of-title opportunities. 
The BLM has previously expressed interest in further 
discussions with those who hold title derived from the State to 
identify ways to streamline the color-of-title process wherever 
possible to minimize time and cost.


                                s. 1219


    S.1219 eliminates the legal effect on the ownership of the 
land described in the Federal resurvey approved in 1969, which 
identified omitted public lands near Lake Bistineau. S. 1219 
reaffirms the boundaries identified in the original survey that 
was approved in 1842. Finally, S. 1219 directs the Secretary of 
the Interior to disclaim any Federal interest for those omitted 
lands.
    The DOI shares the goal of providing legal certainty to 
those who hold title through the State in the approximately 230 
acres outlined in S. 1219. However, the Department is concerned 
that the bill transfers Federal lands and mineral estate out of 
Federal ownership without equitable compensation to U.S. 
Taxpayers. We are mindful that legislated transfers of land and 
interests in land often promote varied public interest 
considerations. In these instances, the balancing of important 
public policy considerations, including ensuring a fair return 
for the American taxpayer, ultimately rests with Congress. The 
Department acknowledges the historical complexities associated 
with these lands and recognizes Congress' authority to resolve 
title conflicts unique to local communities where the public 
benefit may outweigh financial considerations.
    We would also like to work with the sponsor on language to 
simplify the proposal in order to achieve the sponsor's goals.


                               conclusion


    Thank you for the opportunity to testify on S. 1219. I will 
be glad to answer any questions.

                        CHANGES IN EXISTING LAW

    In compliance with paragraph 12 of rule XXVI of the 
Standing Rules of the Senate, the Committee notes that no 
changes in existing law are made by the bill as ordered 
reported.

                                  [all]