The Flood of Takings Cases after Hurricane Harvey

by John Echeverria | October 23, 2017

On August 27, as Hurricane Harvey blew through the Houston area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found itself between the proverbial rock and hard place. Since the 1940s, it had operated a flood control project to control the risk of flood damage to downtown Houston and the Houston Ship Channel. It had accomplished this by carefully controlling the release of flood waters from the project's dams. Now, however, the Corps confronted Hurricane Harvey, a megastorm generating massive, unprecedented volumes of flood water. 

The Corps faced the choice of either limiting water releases from the project to protect downstream properties at the cost of flooding upstream properties, or increasing project releases to protect upstream properties at the cost of flooding downstream properties. Not surprisingly, the Corps' decision on August 27 and on the following days, to release up to 13,000 cubic feet per second from the project dams, which arguably contributed to the flooding of both downstream and upstream properties, left everyone unhappy. 

What is surprising is that property owners upstream and downstream from the project have now filed as least 61 – yes, 61! – separate lawsuits in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) asserting a "taking" of their private property under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. All told, the complaints seek "just compensation" from the U.S. government to the tune of several billions of dollars. 

Generally speaking, the plaintiffs assert that ...

Houston Chronicle Op-Ed: Burying Our Head in Sand on Climate Change No Longer an Option

by Victor Flatt | September 29, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Houston Chronicle. Every day during the Hurricane Harvey disaster, our hearts would sink as we kept hearing the word "unprecedented" again and again. Harvey wasn't supposed to strengthen so fast; it shouldn't have stalled where it did. Every day as we hoped the worst was over, Harvey would pummel us even harder. Everything was outside the norm, breaking all records. Over 50 inches of rain. Houston's "wettest month in recorded history." High river marks exceeded ...

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Preparing for Hurricanes Should Not Fall to Ratepayers

by Matt Shudtz | September 20, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun. The full scope of the heartbreaking devastation wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma — the human, economic and environmental toll — may not be completely understood for years. As we do what we can to help the victims, it is also time to think about how we can prepare for the inevitable here in Baltimore. After all, Baltimore floods more than most other cities in the United States and gets little help ...

No Job and No Paycheck After Harvey and Irma

by Katie Tracy | September 15, 2017
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, thousands of Texans and Floridians are out of work, some indefinitely. Without knowing when their employers might reopen for business (if at all) , many are uncertain how they're going to afford their next meal or purchase basic necessities, much less repair their damaged homes and property. At the same time, monthly bills are coming due. Vice News recently shared one Houston family’s gripping story of how Harvey has devastated them financially. ...

As Irma Hits Florida, Trump's Risk Is Different from His Neighbors'

by David Flores | September 09, 2017
As Hurricane Irma takes aim at the Florida coast, questions about property and community vulnerabilities abound, including for some of President Donald Trump's properties. A brief analysis by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) has found that while Trump's properties, including Mar-a-Lago, face significant risk of damage from the hurricane and from the ongoing impacts of climate change, surrounding neighborhoods and communities will have a much more difficult time rebuilding and recovering from the storm.  Three Trump developments in South ...

Trump Administration Policies Will Make Americans More Vulnerable to Toxic Floodwaters

by David Flores | August 30, 2017
As the country bears witness to the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, a storm unlike any other, the Trump administration's policy of rolling back worker, emergency response, and environmental safeguards will all but ensure that victims of future flooding events will be exposed to toxic contamination. Over just a 36-hour period, an estimated 9 trillion gallons of rainwater deluged Texas, affecting millions and displacing tens of thousands along the Gulf Coast and in Houston. As the rainfall and flooding wear on this week, emergency ...

As Texas Floods, President Trump Backpedals on Resiliency

by Alice Kaswan | August 28, 2017
With a sense of horror, the nation is watching waters rise in southeastern Texas as now-Tropical Storm Harvey spins across the Gulf Coast. While no individual storm can be attributed to climate change, scientists predict more intense storms, and the wisdom of preparing for future floods has never been clearer. And yet, less than two weeks ago, President Trump issued an executive order that rolled back a federal flood standard designed to anticipate intense flooding. Instead of investing in infrastructure ...

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