313 U.S. 508 (1941), 832, Oklahoma ex rel. Phillips v. Guy F. Atkinson Co.

Docket Nº:No. 832
Citation:313 U.S. 508, 61 S.Ct. 1050, 85 L.Ed. 1487
Party Name:Oklahoma ex rel. Phillips v. Guy F. Atkinson Co.
Case Date:June 02, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 508

313 U.S. 508 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 1050, 85 L.Ed. 1487

Oklahoma ex rel. Phillips


Guy F. Atkinson Co.

No. 832

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1941

Argued May 6, 7, 1941




1. The Denison Dam and Reservoir Project on the Red River in Oklahoma and Texas, authorized by the Act of June 28, 1938, is a valid exercise of the commerce power by Congress. P. 516.

This is a multipurpose project -- part of a comprehensive scheme for controlling floods in the Mississippi River through reservoir control of its tributaries, of which the Red River is one of the more important. It aims also to protect and improve navigation of the Red River itself on its navigable stretches (which lie below the State of Oklahoma) by averting damaging floods and by regulating stream flow, and it provides means for creating hydroelectric power, the disposition of which will offset some of the costs of the flood control and of the stream flow regulation.

2. The fact that portions of a navigable stream are no longer used for commerce does not dilute the power of Congress over them. P. 523.

3. Congress may control nonnavigable parts of a river in order to preserve and promote commerce on the navigable parts. P. 523.

4. The power of Congress, under the Commerce Clause, to protect a navigable river from floods extends to the control of waters of its tributaries. P. 525.

5. The exercise of the granted power to regulate interstate commerce may be aided by appropriate and needful control of activities and agencies which, though intrastate, affect that commerce. P. 526.

6. It is for Congress alone to decide whether a particular project, by itself or as part of a more comprehensive scheme, will have such a beneficial effect on the arteries of interstate commerce as to warrant it. P. 527.

It is not for the Court to determine whether the resulting benefits to commerce will outweigh the costs of the project. Nor may the Court inquire into the considerations or objectives which moved members of Congress to vote for the project.

7. Inclusion of the water power feature in the Denison project, thereby increasing the height of the dam and the area of land to be

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taken for the reservoir, did not exceed the authority of Congress. The project ii basically one of flood control, including river flow, and those functions are interrelated with the power function. P. 529.

8. Whether the work of food control would be better done by a dam of one design or another was for Congress to determine. P. 533.

9. A respects the authority of Congress to adopt a plan for flood control, it is not an objection that it will also serve other ends which may be relatively more important. P. 534.

10. The Tenth Amendment does not deprive the National Government of authority to resort to all means for the exercise of a granted power which are appropriate and plainly adapted to the permitted end. P. 534.

11. Construction of the Denison Dam and Reservoir does not interfere with the sovereignty of Oklahoma. P. 534.

12. The facts that land included in a federal reservoir project is owned by a State, or that its taking may impair the tax revenue of the State, and that the reservoir will obliterate part of the State's boundary, and that the State's own project for water development and conservation will be interfered with -- constitute no barrier to condemnation of the land by the United States under its superior power of eminent domain. P. 534.

37 F.Supp. 93, affirmed.

Appeal from a decree dismissing on motion a bill through which the Oklahoma sought to enjoin the construction, pursuant to an Act of Congress, of a dam and reservoir, upon the ground that the Act and the project exceeded the power of Congress and were contrary to the sovereign and proprietary rights of the State.

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DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves primarily the constitutionality of the Act of June 28, 1938, 52 Stat. 1215, insofar as it authorizes the construction of the Denison Reservoir on Red River in Texas and Oklahoma.1

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[61 S.Ct. 1053] The bill in equity was filed by the Oklahoma seeking to enjoin the construction of any dam across Red River within the domain of Oklahoma which would impound the waters of the Red River (or its tributary, Washita River) so as to inundate and destroy any of the lands, highways or bridges belonging to or under the jurisdiction and control of the state or which would obliterate or interfere with its boundaries. The bill also seeks to restrain the institution or conduct in any court in Oklahoma of proceedings to condemn lands for the purpose of the dam or reservoir.2

The bill alleges that Oklahoma will be injured in the following manner by construction of the project: the greater part of the dam will rest on Oklahoma soil, and will form a reservoir inundating about 150,000 acres of land, of which 100,000 acres are located in Oklahoma. Of those acres, about 3,800 are owned by the state. The United States will acquire title to the inundated land. The land owned by the state is used for school purposes, for a prison farm, for highways, rights of way, and bridges. The basin to be inundated is inhabited by about 8,000 Oklahoma citizens. Much of the land is rich soil in a high state of

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cultivation. Much of it has large potential oil reserves. On some of it there are large producing oil wells, and on other parts there are drilling operations and exploration for oil and gas. At least 15,000 acres will be highly productive oil lands ,and at least 50,000 acres are underlaid with oil and gas. There are thirty-nine school districts and townships in the four counties in which the affected area is located. Those governmental units are largely supported by ad valorem taxes. The taking of the 100,000 acres will decrease the taxable property in each of the counties and take virtually all of the taxable property in many of the townships and school districts. Each of these governmental units has a large bonded indebtedness payable from an annual levy of taxes. Inundation of the land will deprive those units of much of the tax revenue, so that many will be practically destroyed, and the remainder seriously hampered. Since the state derives much of its revenue from a gross production tax on oil and gas, it will suffer great losses in tax revenues from the inundation of the oil and gas lands. The "annual wealth production" to the citizens of Oklahoma from the lands in the reservoir basin is about $1,500,000. Aside from such losses and losses from oil revenues and personal property taxation, the net taxable loss to the counties, townships and school districts will be about $40,000 annually.

It is also alleged that the construction of the dam will be a "direct invasion and destruction" of the sovereign and proprietary rights of Oklahoma in that: the boundary of Oklahoma will be obliterated for approximately 40 miles (see Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606); there will be a "forcible reduction of the area of plaintiff as one of the United States;" lands owned by it will be taken; its highways and bridges will be destroyed, causing an interruption in communication between various parts of the state; the waters to be impounded belong to Oklahoma, but will be taken from it without payment of just compensation;

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those waters will be diverted from Oklahoma, and will be run through turbines located in Texas for the generation of power for sale principally in Texas; the removal of citizens from the 100,000 acres of land will create a "serious social and economic problem," the burden of which will fall [61 S.Ct. 1054] on Oklahoma, for which no compensation is afforded.

The bill incorporates H.Doc.No.541, 75th Cong., 3d Sess. (hereinafter called the Report), which contains the War Department's survey and recommendations on the Denison Reservoir and which served as the broad definition of the project which was authorized by the Act of June 28, 1938. The bill alleges that, under the statutory scheme, flood control and power purposes are "inextricably and inserverably involved." It alleges that, as described in the Report, the first 110 feet of the dam are to be used "solely and exclusively for the development of waterpower," while 40 feet "superimposed" on the power reservoir are to be used "solely and exclusively" for flood control. That is to say, from elevation 510 feet (sea level) to 590 feet, there is to be a dead storage pool for waterpower head, from 595 feet to 620 feet there is to be a water power reservoir, and from 620 feet to 660 feet there is to be a flood control reservoir. It is alleged that those purposes are "functionally separate, and neither is the incidental or necessary result of the other;" that the same part of the reservoir will not and cannot be used for both flood control and waterpower purposes, and that the power portion of the dam is created at the expense of its utilization for flood control. The bill further alleges that, as a result of the modification of the statutory plan set forth in the Report, the dam is being constructed so as to provide dead storage for water head from 510 feet to 567 feet, a power pool reservoir from 587 feet to 617, feet and a flood control reservoir from 617 feet to 640 feet. It is alleged that, by reason of that modification, the reservoir

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will inundate 3,080,000 acre feet for power and 2,745,000 acre feet for flood control, as contrasted to 3,400,000 acre feet for power and 5,900,000 acre feet for flood control under the original plan;3 and that, as a result, the statutory

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scheme has been charged from one preponderantly for flood control to one preponderantly [61 S.Ct. 1055] for water power. It is also alleged that no part of the Red River in Oklahoma is...

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