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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill To Reconvey to Former Owners Certain Lands Acquired for Reservoir Projects in Texas.

August 12, 1955

I HAVE WITHHELD my approval from H.R. 7195, "To provide for adjustments in the lands or interests therein acquired for reservoir projects in Texas, by the reconveyance of certain lands or interests therein to the former owners thereof."

The bill would authorize the Secretary of the Army to make adjustments in the land holdings of the United States acquired for five Texas reservoir projects (Belton, Benbrook, Garza-Little Elm, Grapevine, and Whitney Reservoirs) by reconveyance of certain lands to former owners, or the grantee, devisee, or successor in title of a former owner of contiguous property.

The Secretary has no authority to adjust land holdings where title has been acquired by purchase. The bill would provide the Secretary with authority to make such adjustments through reconveyance of lands or interests in lands to former owners at what the Secretary determines to be the original purchase price, adjusted to take into account improvements, damages, or interests retained by the United States.

However, H.R. 7195 goes further and requires the Secretary to determine whether the fights of a grantee, devisee, or successor in title of a former owner of contiguous property are equitably superior to the rights of the former owner himself. The law reports are replete with decisions which disclose the problems with which courts have been confronted in giving just recognition to asserted equitable interests in title to a tract of land. Moreover, in such cases the courts have enjoyed the historic cautionary benefits of the judicial process, such as notice and hearing, rights of intervention, the rules of evidence, and judicial precedents in a particular jurisdiction with respect to the application of equitable principles. The bill does not provide, and the Secretary of the Army does not have, comparable cautionary benefits for an administrative proceeding in which he would be required to engage in the subtle problems involved in weighing justly the equitable superiority or inferiority of the rights, on the one hand of a former owner of a tract, and, on the other hand, of those of the grantee or successor in title to a contiguous tract of property.

This provision would unjustly expose the Secretary to a series of burdensome and time-consuming administrative proceedings which are entirely alien to his statutory responsibilities. It would inevitably subject him to criticism from unsuccessful contestants. These unnecessary burdens and the attendant criticism can, and should, be avoided.

It is my firm opinion that, except for the return of lands or interests directly to the former owners or their heirs in cases of this kind, lands no longer required for project purposes should, if determined to be excess to the needs of the Department, be reported to the General Services Administration for disposal in accordance with general legislation providing for the disposition of excess and surplus Government-owned property. I see no reason for establishing a new and special category of priority holders based on a chain of title from a former owner of contiguous property.

I have approved legislation authorizing similar adjustments by reconveyance of lands to former owners (or their heirs) upon application by them at Demopolis Lock and Dam, Alabama, and at Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam, Florida and Georgia, because I am convinced of the soundness of the principle behind the revised reservoir land acquisition policy of the Departments of the Army and the Interior.

I recommend that the Congress reconsider H.R. 7195 and enact a bi!l along those lines for the five reservoir projects in Texas to which the bill is applicable.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill To Reconvey to Former Owners Certain Lands Acquired for Reservoir Projects in Texas. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233475

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