Breaking News: Wetland Lawsuit Against the Army Corps of Engineers

Bayou City Waterkeeper | August 4, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 4, 2020

CONTACTS
Kristen Schlemmer, Legal Director       512-619-1583 |  kristen@bayoucitywaterkeeper.org 
Jordan Macha, Executive Director       713-309-6683 |  jordan@bayoucitywaterkeeper.org 

Federal approval of local wetlands destruction met with legal challenge by Bayou City Waterkeeper
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed destruction of wetlands, increasing flood risk for League City subdivision

Houston, TX – Today, Bayou City Waterkeeper filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, challenging its decision to allow development over wetlands without requiring any form of mitigation. The decision likely will increase flood risk for local residents in the Bayou Brae neighborhood in League City, Texas.

In 2012, Broad Reach Partners, a residential real estate developer, applied for a permit from the Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Broad Reach requested permission to fill about an acre of wetlands on a 30-acre tract along Robinson Bayou, just across the county line in Galveston County in League City—but failed to disclose effects on nearly 9 additional acres of forested wetlands. 

Broad Reach’s permit request fell through when the U.S. EPA raised concerns about the effect its project would have on these wetlands. Broad Reach moved forward with the project anyway and permanently filled in all wetlands but those closest to the bayou. Broad Reach also elevated the property several feet above the subdivision next door. When a resident complained, the Corps issued approvals based on information provided by Broad Reach’s consultant, allowing the developer to avoid the federal permit process altogether.

Across the 10,000 square miles making up the Lower Galveston Bay watershed, communities endure increased flood risk with each passing year. Jordan Macha, Bayou City Waterkeeper’s Executive Director explained:

Wetlands play a critical role in protecting our local communities against flooding. As our region grows and faces more storms like Harvey and Imelda, our long-term resilience must not be undermined by irresponsible development. Local leaders are embracing nature-based solutions and strategic buyouts to protect communities from flooding – it doesn’t make sense to allow our watershed to be built out in a way that is not mindful of our natural sources of flood protection.

Kristen Schlemmer, Bayou City Waterkeeper’s Legal Director added:

One factor contributing to wetland losses is real estate development that does not comply with the Clean Water Act. The Corps of Engineers is responsible for enforcing this federal law’s protections for wetlands across our region. But locally, the Corps too often defers to developers’ paid consultants. As a result, we believe that wetlands that should receive federal protection do not, and developers like Broad Reach are not required to compensate for these losses, as the Clean Water Act requires. 

Local resident and Bayou City Waterkeeper John Hancock added:

Bayou Brae has never flooded. When the next Harvey or Imelda hits, I fear that could change because of this poorly planned “fill and build” style development. Working with Bayou City Waterkeeper, my neighbors and I aim to require mitigation for the wetlands that have been permanently lost. 

The case, styled Bayou City Waterkeeper v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas’ Galveston Division on August 4, 2020. The case number is 3:20-CV-255. Representing Bayou City Waterkeeper are its Legal Director Kristen Schlemmer and Parth Gejji of Beck Redden LLP.

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Bayou City Waterkeeper utilizes science, the law, and community empowerment to protect and restore our natural systems, achieve equitable policy solutions, and advance systemic change to benefit all who live within the Lower Galveston Bay Watershed.