WASHINGTON (Covering Katy News) - Katy area homeowners who were flooded by overflow from the Barker and Addicks reservoirs following Hurricane Harvey are entitled to compensation. Judge Charles F. Lettow of the Federal Court of Claims issued an official ruling Tuesday in favor of homeowners suing the Army Corps of Engineers for damage to their property located behind the Addicks and Barker dams during and after Hurricane Harvey.
Judge Lettow's ruling applies to thirteen so called test properties located behind the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs that are operated by the federal government's Army Corps of Engineers.
"People living in the flood pools behind these dams sacrificed their homes to save the heart of Houston, and we are extremely pleased the judge agreed with us that they are entitled to compensation under the 5th Amendment to our constitution," said Vuk Vujasinovic of VB Attorneys, who is part of the court-appointed team that took the case to trial.
The homeowners claim that the two dams stopped water that would otherwise have flowed from the two reservoirs eastward into West Houston neighborhoods, Houston's central business district, and the industrial ship channel. The homeowners alleged the water backed up until it flooded over the thirteen test properties and over 10,000 homes and businesses located behind the dams.
The homeowners claimed the government's construction and operation of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs constituted a "taking" under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and thus entitling them to compensation.
The government alleged Hurricane Harvey was a very large storm that it could not foresee when it built the dams in the 1940s, and denied owing compensation to any homeowners.
Judge Lettow held a 2-week trial in Houston which concluded on May 17, 2019. More than 30 witnesses were called to testify, including property owners, experts in hydrology, meteorology, and real estate valuation, representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as officials with Harris County and Fort Bend County. The trial included an excursion with the Judge to personally view the entire Addicks and Barker project.
Vujasinovic notes the following major points were established at trial:
- The Addicks and Barker project caused more than 7,000 acres of private property behind the dams to flood;
- This private property would not have flooded had the federal project not existed; and
- The government long ago predicted a storm the size of Harvey (the project was designed to hold almost twice the amount of water that was encountered during Harvey)
"The court finds that the government's actions relating to the Addicks and Barker Dams and the attendant flooding of plaintiffs' properties constituted a taking of a flowage easement under the Fifth Amendment. Thus, the court finds defendant liable," Judge Lettow wrote in his ruling.
Vujasinovic anticipates a second phase of litigation for the thirteen test properties to determine the amount of compensation owed to each.
Collective damages for the over 10,000 flooded properties are estimated to exceed $1 billion.
This trial victory will be instrumental in our efforts to obtain fair compensation for all our clients whose property was damaged or destroyed due to the Addicks and Barker project," Vujasinovic said. "We look forward to finishing this fight to enforce our clients' constitutional property rights."