Statement of David Duncan, Missouri Boundary Commission
Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law
July 29, 1999
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the subcommittee about a matter that has bedeviled Missouri and Nebraska officials and citizens for over one hundred years: the exact location of the boundary between the two states.
Upon admission to the Union in 1821, Missouri's western boundary was the meridian line from the southern boundary of the state to the mouth of the Kansas River, and continuing along the same meridian to Missouri's northern border. Four years later, the United States concluded the Platte Purchase and ceded the newly acquired land to Missouri. This pushed the state's western border to the Missouri River.
In 1867, Nebraska was admitted to the union with its eastern boundary set as the Missouri River. It was July of that very same year that a large flood caused the first border dispute between the two states.
This flood changed the course of the River and 5,097 acres of land, known as McKissick's Island, which had been west of the Missouri River suddenly was east of the River. Both Missouri and Nebraska claimed this land. The dispute rested on whether or not the change in course was consider avulsion-- a sudden and perceptive change in the River's course-- or accretion-- the gradual increase to riparian land caused by the deposit of sand sediment along a river bank. The distinction is important because in cases of avulsion, the boundary remains the old channel even if water no long flows through it, while in the case of accretion, the boundary moves with the River. In 1904, the Supreme Court ruled that the course change was properly termed avulsion and therefore the land belonged to Nebraska. The agreement we are discussing today is consistent with that ruling.
In the 1930's, the Army Corps of Engineers began an ambitious project to channelize the Missouri River in order to provide better flood control and navigation. Because these Corps activities were also ruled avulsive, the boundary properly remained at the center line of the original Missouri River channel. This led to disputes between Missouri and Nebraska about precisely where this centerline was located. In many cases, both states claimed the same land. This created problems for landowners who were being taxed by both states for the same land. It also raised jurisdictional concerns should a crime occur on disputed lands. For these reasons, starting in the 1960's both states attempted to resolve the issue through negotiations and legal action. These often expensive efforts did not resolve the issue.
In the 1970's, the Nebraska legislature passed land compact legislation setting the border as the Missouri River with the exception of McKissick's Island-- the disputed land I mentioned earlier in my testimony. However, because of concerns about the accuracy of maps, Missouri declined to pass a similar measure. Through the 1980's, the situation remained unresolved.
In 1990, the Missouri legislature approved a land compact bill that would have set the border as the centerline of the Missouri River. Unlike the earlier Nebraska legislation, this compact language would have made McKissick's Island part of Missouri. Because of concerns about this, Nebraska did not consider a similar bill.
In 1992, after hearing from constituents who were facing taxation from both Missouri and Nebraska, Missouri State Senator and now Congresswoman Pat Danner sponsored legislation creating the Missouri Boundary Commission. This legislation was passed into law and I was appointed one of 8 members of the Commission.
The efforts of our commission and a similar Nebraska commission led to a 1995 Missouri General Assembly bill defining the Missouri-Nebraska boundary as the center of the Missouri River channel, except for McKissick's Island which would remain part of Nebraska. This bill passed the Missouri legislature, but expired before Nebraska acted on a similar measure.
Because the legislation had expired, it had to be re-approved in 1997. In 1998, Nebraska approved its version of the bill, and now all that remains is final approval from the federal government through an act of Congress.
This year, Representative Danner of Missouri and Representative Bereuter of Nebraska introduced House Joint Resolution 54, a bill to grant approval to the Missouri-Nebraska compact. Their joint, and I might add bi-partisan, sponsorship symbolizes the fact that the Missouri-Nebraska Compact has support from both Missouri and Nebraska and will finally resolve an issue which has created so much confusion over the years.
Before I conclude, I would like to take a moment to recognize all those who spent so much time on this issue, including the 7 members of the Nebraska Boundary Commission and the other 7 seven member of the Missouri Boundary Commission. They have worked tirelessly on the issue for many years and deserve recognition. I would also like to thank John Teele and the other Midland Engineering workers who worked closely with the survey team to precisely map McKissick's Island-- something that had not been done in over 100 years. Finally, I would like to thank Representatives Bereuter and Danner who have sponsored this legislation. This truly shows that it is possible for citizens to join with their local, state and federal officials to resolve problems and make a difference in the lives of all those who were innocent victims of this boundary dispute.
On behalf of all those involved in resolving this matter, I want to again thank you for allowing me to appear and urge rapid approval of this long-overdue legislation.