A group of Houston lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents and business owners in west Houston flooded by the controlled release of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.

After the massive rain event brought on by Harvey, some west Houston property owners considered themselves lucky that they didn’t flood. But that changed as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did controlled releases of water from the two major dams to prevent failure and create more room for additional water.

The Engineers usually release water from the reservoirs at 2,000 cubic feet per second, but with the massive amount of water dumped by Harvey, they increased that to 13,000 cubic feet per second. Draining the dams faster reduced their risk of breaching.

The attorneys are suing the Harris County Flood Control District and the City of Houston, arguing that inverse condemnation occurred when the Engineers (the government) decided to take private property for public use without a formal process or proceeding. By consciously deciding to flood one area by releasing excess dam water, the government chose to “take” that private property for the benefit of the public.

“According to officials, the Hurricane Harvey controlled water releases were necessary to protect the integrity of the Addicks and Barker dams from catastrophic damage that would occur in the event of an uncontrolled release as well as to preserve storage capacity in case additional water came down,” read a press release.

“Even if the dam release was done for a public purpose, the government must still compensate affected property owners.”

The plaintiffs aren’t arguing that the government acted incorrectly or negligently, or even that the reason was invalid, but they are saying that they deserve to be compensated for the intentional flooding. Those who have joined the suit are hoping to receive damages for the costs of repairing or rebuilding their homes, lost income, and reduced property values.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.

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