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Houston Regional Group - News

On Monday, August 27, 2012, Judge Keith Ellison ruled in the case of Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the Corps had failed to correctly analyze the environmental impacts of the permit issued to allow filling of wetlands in association with the Grand Parkway. Although Judge Ellison did not stop the road project, his decision could be quite important in the continuing effort to protect the Katy Prairie and Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.

In this case, the Sierra Club sued over the alleged failure of the Corps to analyze the flood-related impacts of the Grand Parkway and its induced development on Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. These two reservoirs have been determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be at substantial risk of dam failure, causing them to be listed among the six worst dams in the United States under the Corps’ jurisdiction. Additional development west of Addicks and Barker on the Katy Prairie will add more runoff to these dams that are unable to hold water to their full capacity due to the structural problems found by the Corps. If more stormwater is dumped on these reservoirs, there will be more flooding downstream as more water is released to protect the levees.

According to Jim Blackburn, attorney for the Sierra Club, “This decision by Judge Ellison was narrow but it has broad implications. Although Judge Ellison refused to enjoin construction of the road project, his action in forcing the Corps to analyze cumulative impacts on Addicks and Barker is extremely important. In essence, no federal permits to fill wetlands on the Katy Prairie in the Addicks and Barker watersheds will likely be issued until this analysis is completed. Additionally, Harris County should take this ruling to heart as it raises major issues about their policies regulating drainage west of Addicks and Barker. In short, it is an important decision relative to land development in West Harris County.”

Addicks and Barker Reservoirs were built during the 1940s and early ‘50s to protect downtown Houston, River Oaks, the Memorial Drive area and what is today the Energy Corridor from major floods that hit Houston during the 1930s. Again according to Blackburn, “These reservoirs have been the best flood control investments ever made in Harris County. They have to be protected, and Judge Ellison’s decision was a first step in trying to bring that protection forward.”

It is not clear what impact if any this decision will have on the construction of the Grand Parkway. Although not enjoined, no permit exists at this time to fill wetlands. If these wetlands have not been fi lled to date, there is no permission to go forward.

Last updated:  11/20/2011.   Content © 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.