Federal judge rules Army Corps not liable for downstream Harvey flooding

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Hurricane Harvey

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the government was not to blame for damage caused by floodwaters released from two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams west of Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The Houston Chronicle dubbed the ruling a devastating blow” to thousands of storm victims.

Judge Loren A. Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said the Corps couldn’t be blamed for damage to thousands of properties that resulted after controlled releases from the Addicks and Barker dams into the Buffalo Bayou watershed. The Corps released the water to avoid more catastrophic flooding above the dams. 

“Of course, the water from the hurricane was not the government’s water, unless the storm was also created by the government’s wind and air and sun and sky,” Smith wrote. “These were flood waters that no entity could entirely control.”

Noting that the after-effects of Harvey were classified as a once-in-2,000-years event, Smith wrote “the last such event occurred during the life of Jesus!”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, about 2,500 homeowners and businesses, said they were “disappointed” with Smith’s ruling, the Chronicle reported.

Lawyers from McGehee Chang, Landgraf, Feiler said in a news release that Smith’s ruling contradicts the decision from Judge Charles F. Lettow from the same court. Lettow said the Corps should be held liable for damage from water that backed up above the two dams.

Smith said in his ruling that Lettow determined the flooding above the dams was caused by the general operation of those facilities while plaintiffs in his case do not cite general operation of the dams as the reason for their flooding.

The attorneys are considering an appeal and Smith set a telephone status conference about the case for Feb. 26, the newspaper reported.

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