Houston-area county's suit over Hurricane Harvey flooding revived by appeals court

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday revived a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying internal documents may show the agency improperly managed reservoirs and dams which resulted in flooding on private land in Texas during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Fort Bend County and other local entities sued the agency in Texas federal court in 2018. The suit claimed the Army Corps was aware that the Addicks and Barker reservoirs would flood privately owned land upstream when they reached maximum capacity.

The suit claimed the agency had an obligation to buy private property on the outer edges of the reservoirs to account for this possibility. The failure do so resulted in extensive flooding and damage when the hurricane hit, the suit said.

The suit was dismissed in 2021.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday revived the suit on Thursday.

The panel said that Army Corps regulations and guidance documents, including a file called the "real estate handbook," that are not available to the public may show the agency had a legal duty to acquire the private lands.

The court instructed the district court to obtain these documents.

Both reservoirs targeted in the litigation were built in the 1940s to protect Houston from flooding. The upstream properties were largely vacant at the time the reservoirs were built but have since been developed.

The case is Fort Bend County et al. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers et al., 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-20174.

For the plaintiffs: Keith Lapeze of Lapeze & Johns and Eric Storm and David Tuckfield of The AL Law Group

For the federal government: Brian Toth of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division

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