In what appears to be a last-ditch effort to block construction of Segment E, the straight-throught-the-Katy-Prairie section of the Grand Parkway scheduled to begin construction this month, the Sierra Club has filed a new suit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the DOT, the FHA, the Texas Transportation Commission, and several public officials. But the lawsuit also focuses attention on the health of the Addicks and Barker Dams on Buffalo Bayou, which control waterflow through west and Downtown Houston. According to a July 2010 document unearthed by the environmental group this past March through an information request, the Army Corps has rated the status of both dams as “urgent and compelling” since September 2009; that rating indicates the Corps considers them to be 2 of the 6 most dangerous dams in North America.
The Sierra Club claims the Corps hasn’t informed the public about the dams’ potential for catastrophic failure or its current plan for dealing with the problem. That plan mandates maintaining lower maximum water levels, significantly reducing the reservoirs’ capacity to handle flood conditions. According to the lawsuit, the dams therefore now only protect downstream neighborhoods — which includes much of Houston’s priciest real estate — from 25-year flood events, rather than the 1,000-year events they were designed for. And water releases mandated by the new lower levels may cause occasional flooding conditions downstream even without a major event, the lawsuit says.
Now add in the plans for the Grand Parkway’s 15.2-mile Segment E, about to begin construction in the watershed that drains into both reservoirs. The lawsuit claims the Corps didn’t sufficiently take into account the additional runoff that would be sent to the reservoirs by the prairie paving project and associated development when it provided a permit for highway construction — despite several pieces of internal Corps correspondence expressing that concern.
- Sierra Club vs. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, et al. (PDF) and Toll Road May Flood Houston, Group Says [Courthouse News Service]
- Sierra Club sues to halt Grand Parkway construction [Houston Business Journal]
- Sierra Club sues to block Grand Parkway expansion [Houston Chronicle]
- Previously on Swamplot: Out of the Way, Tiny Soldiers, Here Comes the Grand Parkway: Katy’s Forbidden Gardens Is Closing Down, Bridgeland Over the Floodwaters, Grand Parkway Segment E: Mall Shopper Express Lanes
Photo of Addicks Dam: Robert W. Boyd