HOUSTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of Houston homeowners near U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed reservoirs may receive compensation for flooding of their properties during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which managed two dams and the reservoirs, had planned to flood private properties in the event of inundating rainfall, Senior Judge Charles Lettow of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said in his decision.
Harvey dumped nearly 3 feet (90 cm) of water on the fourth most-populous U.S. city and flooded a third of Harris County, where the city and many of its suburbs are located along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
“The government had made a calculated decision to allow for flooding these lands years before Harvey, when it designed, modified, and maintained the dams in such a way that would flood private properties during severe storms,” Lettow wrote.
The ruling, which involved 13 owners chosen as test cases, opens the door to billions of dollars in potential claims from other property owners, attorneys have said.
The homes were built in areas that had been free of major flooding around federal land in the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in West Houston. The ACE called the enormous rainfall during Harvey an unforeseeable event.
Homeowners alleged the government improperly used their land to store water, calling it an unlawful taking of their properties by the government. Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government cannot take private property without compensating the owner.
A representative for the Army Corps of Engineers was not immediately available to answer questions about the decision.
Lettow is expected to make a decision next year on the amount of compensation the 13 homeowners can receive.
“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.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Peter Cooney)