U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled that the US Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately examine the induced development costs of the proposed SH99 “Grand Parkway” Segment E, according to the Houston Chronicle:
A federal judge ruled Monday that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to fully analyze potential flooding downstream of a planned leg of the Grand Parkway in west Harris County but refused to block the project.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison said the four-lane outer beltway, already under construction, should not be stopped because the problems with the federal agency’s analysis involves future development and not the project itself. An extended delay could cost the state as much as $21 million, Ellison wrote in a 42-page ruling.
Take another look
Even then, the judge said the Corps must take another look at the flooding consequences of more construction of roads, houses and office and retail buildings that are bound to follow the Grand Parkway upstream of the Addicks dam.
Jim Blackburn, an attorney for the Sierra Club, which sued to block the road over flooding concerns, said he was pleased with the decision because it will require the Corps to take “a hard look” at future development when permitting projects.
“It’s a correct decision,” he said. “I would have liked to see it go further, but it has potentially far-reaching impacts.”
The Sierra Club claimed the 15-mile toll road may increase runoff into Addicks dam, which the Corps has identified as among the nation’s riskiest because of the potential harm to low-lying Houston should the 1940s-era structure give way.
The environmental group filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Houston last August after the Corps issued the final permit for the new leg of the long-planned outer beltway. The toll road would run through the Katy Prairie between U.S. 290 and Interstate 10 - a mostly undeveloped area that stores rainwater like a natural sponge.
The Army Corps is both the primary steward of the prairie’s wetlands and the agency responsible for dam safety. The agency could not be reached for comment Monday.
This decision will have lasting impacts on development on the Katy Prairie, according to a statement from 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. 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.”