Houston-area Hurricane Harvey victims win lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Addicks and Barker Reservoirs / Image credit: US Army Corps of Enginers

It’s been some weeks since I’ve posted, and I do have several things I want to write about over the next few weeks. I thought I would start off this string of posts by noting that a federal judge ruled on Tuesday (December 17th, 2019) that some Houston area residents were effectively subject to an uncompensated taking of their property during Hurricane Harvey because of federal action. Specifically, the case ruled on here involves properties that were upstream – not downstream – of both the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. Houston Public Media posted about the story here, the Houston Chronicle carried the story here, and Reason magazine posted about the story here. All of the cases were bundled into a single action, while residents downstream of the reservoirs who also flooded are being handled in a separate legal case.

I’ve been a member of the Houston Property Rights Association for 20 years now, albeit as an activist and not a lawyer. I’ve written about flooding before on this site, and have written down my previous thoughts on the legal fighting over flooding. After hearing about this latest news, I’ve come to take a rather hard line on these legal cases, particularly since some of these cases involve properties that were built inside the reservoirs! If property owners are going to file suit against the government for these flood-related takings, and they win, then good for them. However, I’ve come to think that if rulings come down that governmental actions that occurred during floods really do amount to takings, then as someone who is going to be footing the bill for paying off these homeowners, I have something to say about it. And, if these property owners get a nice big compensation check from the feds, then that check needs to come with another set of papers – namely, involuntary condemnation papers kicking the owners off their property. In other words, if this really is a taking, then the feds need to go in and take the property. That land can be reverted to open space for future flooding, parks, or for widening the reservoirs and bayous.

Houston has experienced quite a bit of flood-related damage over the past two decades, and dealing with flooding won’t be cheap. But at some point, we have to face up to the fact that one of the solutions for flooding will be to buy out property owners who are in flood-prone areas – including near the reservoirs, bayous, rivers, lakes, and creeks. These cases are going to force issues like these to come to a head. If property owners win their cases, and are simply handed a check without any demands, then they’ll get the wrong message – that it’s completely okay to build right up against Barker, Addicks, or any other body of water or flood-prone area. And, if it does flood, then we can simply sue the government and get a nice payday out of it at taxpayer expense. Don’t even get me started on the National Flood Insurance Program.

Crap like this needs to stop.