Clarion-Ledger clipping

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Blackwell, Stephen B., 1849-; Issaquena County (Miss.)

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Supreme Court enters La.-Miss. land dispute

N.Y. Times News Service

WASHINGTON - For the second time in four years, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday waded into a boundary dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana over which state owns a 7-mile-long strip of land that may once have been an island in the Mississippi River but is now firmly attached to the Louisiana shore.

Louisiana is challenging the determination by a special master, appointed two years ago by the court, that despite the current geography, the land belongs to Mississippi.

Although the land in question, near Lake Providence, La., is referred to locally and on many maps as Stack Island, the term "island" is itself a fighting word in this long-running litigation.

The special master, Vincent L. McKusick, a former chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, calls it the "Disputed Area" in his 33-page opinion. The court Monday agreed to hear Louisiana's appeal in arguments to be heard next fall.

In the old days, there was an island - whether Stack Island is or was that island is part of the dispute - in the Mississippi that the federal government deeded to private landowner Stephen B. Blackwell in 1888.

Under that deed, the island was part of Issaquena County, with the Mississippi River's main navigation channel - known in boundary dispute cases as the "live thalweg" - located between the island and Louisiana.

Over the years, the thalweg shifted as the river's currents ate away at the island in some places and built it up in others. The special master found that by 1954, the thalweg west of the island had "died" and Stack Island had essentially merged into the Louisiana riverbank.

To decide whether the property - about 2,000 acres now owned by a family that uses it primarily for hunting deer - is still part of Mississippi as a matter of law, the justices will apply a series of arcane rules developed over the centuries for solving just such problems.

Under the so-called Rule of the Thalweg, a state boundary that lies along a river's main navigational channel shifts as the thalweg shifts - a rule that in this case appears to favor Louisiana.

But the special master applied the Island Exception to the Rule of the Thalweg. Under that exception, as McKusick put it, "provided that an island maintains a continuous existence, a state's sovereignty over it remains undisturbed as it changes in size and location as a result of accretion net of erosion."

Louisiana maintains the land that was once Stack Island no longer exists, having long since been washed away, and so the Island Exception does not apply.

The land in dispute consists essentially of sandbars, the state says, contending that a completely new island, identified on some maps as Stack Island, formed to the northeast during the 1960s and 70s. But McKusick rejected that analysis, finding that Stack Island has continued to exist at least since the 1880s.





Clarion-Ledger, “Clarion-Ledger clipping,” Mississippi State University Libraries, accessed October 3, 2023,

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