Should U.S. compensate for floods from reservoir releases?

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In the wake of Harvey’s deluge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unleashed so much water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs that thousands of west side homes were inundated.

Two questions loom for those affected by damage by the controlled onslaught — what did the Corps know about the risk and when were those in charge aware the dams’ viability would be threatened by extreme weather?

The Texas Tribune is reporting that in 2010, “the agency was using terms like ‘risk of catastrophic failure’ for the dams for flood events much smaller than what Houston experienced during Harvey.”

“Sometimes, it’s the government’s responsibility to tell us the truth, not just what we want to hear,” said Bryant Banes, who is both a flood victim and an attorney suing the federal government. He claims that by unleashing floodwaters, the Corps made a conscience decision to destroy his property to protect the dams.

“They decided to build a river through all of our houses on Buffalo Bayou, without due process and without any notice at all for some of us,” said Banes. He and other lawyers are representing homeowners who say the Constitution guarantees compensation when government takes or destroys property.

“They had knowledge that when they released the water, it would flood the homes,” added Banes. “They had knowledge that the dams were insufficient before, so that is enough for a takings claim.”

FOX 26 News senior legal analyst Chris Tritico said homeowners flooded by waters from the reservoir have nothing to lose by joining what’s likely to emerge as a class action lawsuit. That said, Tritico believes it will be very difficult to prove a different course of action by the Corps would have saved west side homes from flooding.

“That’s the government’s biggest defense here,” explained Tritico. “We didn’t have any choice, because no matter what we did there would have been a failure of this dam, either around the sides, over the top or a catastrophic failure, but hundreds of thousands would flood. That’s the defense and that’s what I think may win the case.”

An initial hearing for the lawsuits is scheduled for Oct. 6.