Land Dispute Hearing Held In Gilmer

Upshur County residents speak out today over one of the largest vacancy claims the state of Texas has seen in 50 years. More than 1,000 land and mineral rights owners over more than 4400 acres of land in Upshur County are affected. Today, the Texas General Land Office held a public hearing in Gilmer. From the start, it was evident there was a lot at stake. Millions of dollars to be exact. A three member panel of general land office professionals heard from lawyers representing land owners, oil companies and vacancy claim applicants. At the heart of the controversy is a survey done in 1838. Two businessmen trying to develop a residential golf course claim the survey is two and a half miles west of where it should be. That means, 4,428 acres of land is vacant and should belong to the state. They sited notations on the original documents, which they say, prove the discrepancy. Lawyers representing the land owners and oil companies say that's simply not true. They provided several documents outlining the validity of the survey and tried to prove the applicants did not properly file the claim. The big fireworks, though, came when the residents themselves were able to speak their minds.

"I think if these guys were allowed to go on they're going to find the whole state of Texas is a scrap of land," said royalty owner Don Fenton.

"I can't see why anybody would want to take something away from somebody, when they paid 70 years of taxes on it," added Annie Fenton.

"Take into consideration what you would do if you were in our place," offered land owner Kathy Carpenter.

Land owner Bill Akins was especially upset. In a raised voice, he said, "they don't want our land, they want our mineral rights. Well, we want them too. We deserve them, we paid for them, we earned them. They're ours."

A confidant Kemper Williams got the crowd cheering when he said, "I think we got 'em whooped. Let's go home and enjoy Christmas."

The three member panel will now make their recommendation to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who will have 30 days to make a decision. Officials from the land commission say they don't expect a decision until after the holidays, probably mid-January. If the motion is denied, the applicants can appeal the claim to district court in Upshur County, then the Texas Court of Appeals, then the Texas Supreme Court. The land could be tied up in court for several years to come.

Kevin Berns, reporting.