What does the Army Corps of Engineers owe reservoir flooding victims?

We’ll soon find out.

Christina Micu sat on the witness stand and tearfully explained how she’d made a list of everything she lost when Hurricane Harvey flooded her four-bedroom home. Her son’s toys. Her kitchen stove. A rocking chair her mom had given her.

She threw it all away — and wants to be paid back for it.

“A lot of things were taken from me when we were flooded,” Micu said. “A lot of them are irreplaceable. I’ll never have them back, from heirloom items to baby pictures.”

Micu gave her testimony in Houston Tuesday as the long-awaited trial kicked off before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to determine what the government owes her and her neighbors for flooding their homes.

Senior Judge Charles F. Lettow, who is presiding at this week’s hearing, found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liable following a previous proceeding three years ago. The Corps held water behind two dams west of town to lessen flooding in central Houston when days of rain drenched the region in 2017. The vast majority of residents behind these massive earthen dams did not know they lived in the reservoirs.

After delays caused by the pandemic, the judge will consider what is owed to Harvey victims by examining a handful of individual flooding cases as examples. The outcomes will set criteria for what happens for thousands of others.

“Plaintiffs suffered at the hands of the government in order to save downtown Houston,” said attorney Daniel Charest, as photos of the flooding flashed on computer screens. “They only want to be made whole.”

This was the residents’ only chance to be paid back for their lost private property rights, Charest argued. And not only had they lost property, the value of the homes would drop as a result of the flooding the government inflicted, he said.

Representing the U.S. government, attorney Laura Duncan said the neighborhoods where homes flooded are still desirable. The real estate market wasn’t impacted, she argued.

There were two lawsuits filed over this. In 2019, the judge ruled that the Army Corps was liable – it’s not clear to me whether this is the outcome of one of those suits or if they were combined – and we are now at the damages portion of the trial. I don’t know what to expect at this point, but it seems likely to me that the homeowners will get something. It’s a question of how much.

UPDATE: This Chron story from Thursday afternoon, in a fortuitous bit of timing, answers my question about which lawsuit this is about. Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion!

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10 Responses to What does the Army Corps of Engineers owe reservoir flooding victims?

  1. Flypusher says:

    I don’t blame the Corps for making that call, as a failure of the reservoirs would have been catastrophic. But all the people who took one for the team should be compensated for their losses, especially since it looks like the risks of flooding where downplayed to homebuyers.

  2. C.L. says:

    “The vast majority of residents behind these massive earthen dams did not know they lived in the reservoirs.”

    Ignorance is bliss, apparently. Every time you left your neighborhood or drove up/over the earthen berms surrounding there, there was no thought of ‘Hey, it appears I may be living in a lakebed’ ? …And you chose not to purchase flood insurance ? I feel a Jeff Foxworthy/Ron White quote (‘You can’t fix stupid’) coming on.

  3. Flypusher says:

    So are you of the opinion that the developers have no obligation to disclose risks?

  4. Joel says:

    “So are you of the opinion that the developers have no obligation to disclose risks?”

    This disclosure is a formal part of the home buying/selling process, and certainly the home insurers would have mentioned it, perhaps as part of a sales pitch for flood insurance, which comes every year when you renew your policy.

    It seems more likely that these homeowners “did not know” because they were very determined not to.

  5. Jules says:

    Curious if lenders required flood insurance there. Anyone know?

  6. Flypusher says:

    Based on people I know who got zapped by this, no, it was not required.

  7. Flypusher says:

    The question is whether you would reasonably expect prospective homeowners to consider the possibility that a reservoir up to several miles away could be deliberately opened to prevent it from bursting. Also your individual flood risk could be changed for the worst by subsequent development elsewhere after you buy that house, and our floodplain maps have been behind the times.

  8. TBender says:

    It wasn’t required to disclose flood risks at the time of Harvey, so obviously no one on the seller’s side mentioned it.

    Which led to this law being passed in 2019…


    “Starting Sept. 1, the state will require homeowners to disclose more information about flood risks and flood history before they sell their property. Previously, sellers in Texas had only been required to disclose whether their home was in a 100-year floodplain — an area, typically along a river or bayou, that has a 1% chance of flooding every year. Senate Bill 339, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed earlier this year, expands that disclosure to include whether the home is located in a 500-year floodplain, a flood pool, in or near a reservoir, and whether the home has flooded before.”

  9. Ross says:

    Developers like Land Tejas, the developers of Canyon Gate off Mason Road actively fought disclosure requirements. Total scum. Of course, if disclosure was required, few would buy.

  10. Pingback: Now I know the difference between those two Army Corps of Engineers lawsuits – Off the Kuff

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