HOUSTON – A federal court has ruled that owners of homes and businesses upstream of the Addicks and Barker dams in Houston should be compensated by the federal government for the flooding caused by the Army Corps of Engineers’ management of reservoirs in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims found that the Army Corps built, maintained, and operated the Addicks and Barker Dams to store excess stormwater on private property. That amounted to a “taking” of their property under the Fifth Amendment, ruled Judge Charles F. Lettow in a Dec. 17 decision in Washington, D.C. Under the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation.
The ruling means upstream property owners are eligible to seek certification as a class and move the case to trial to determine damages.
Over several decades, thousands of homes were built within the boundaries of the typically dry Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which the Army Corps designed to hold water on private land during the most extreme rainstorms.
“The government intentionally flooded these private homes and businesses to save downtown Houston,” said attorney Daniel Charest of Burns Charest, co-lead class counsel for the property owners. “As the court noted, the government was responsible for creating an emergency, and these citizens were the innocent victims of those calculated decisions. We look forward to pushing the case through the damages phase and achieving justice for the upstream flood victims.”
The trial related to 13 property owners chosen as test cases, alleging that the Army Corps knew the capacity of the reservoirs behind the massive dams would inundate about 10,000 homes and businesses.
“The invasion alleged here was by no means unexpected—the Corps knew that when a severe storm like Harvey came, flooding beyond the extent of government-owned land upstream would result, in light of the design of the dams and the plans for their operation,” wrote Judge Lettow. “Thus . . . the flooding that occurred was the direct result of calculated planning.”
The upstream plaintiffs are represented by Mr. Charest, Larry Vincent andLydia Wrightof Burns Charest, along with co-counsel.
The case is In re Upstream Addicks and Barker Flood-Control Reservoirs, No. 1:17-cv-09001-CFL, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Read more about the lawsuit at www.insideaddicksbarker.com.