The Sierra Club had wanted the judge to stop construction of the toll road, which will run north and south over the Katy Prairie between I-10 and 290.
The judge didn’t do that, saying the state could lose millions of dollars if construction was stopped now.
But the attorney for the Sierra Club, Jim Blackburn, says environmentalists still won because the judge put restrictions on how future development could proceed.
“There are certainly those in Sierra Club that wanted to see the road stopped. On the other hand if we can cause the development to not have the type of impacts that it could have, I think it would be a victory for all Houstonians. Because, frankly, all of us are at risk on this from a flooding standpoint.”
But the judge ruled the permit failed to recognize the fact that the highway would spur future building on the prairie, and that would send more water flooding downstream into the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.
Those reservoirs are in bad shape and need repairs. The dams are among the top six most dangerous in the country.
“The concern is the safety of those reservoirs, and whether they can handle the additional water that would be generated as run-off from land development. It is not an insubstantial issue, it is one that actually implicates the safety of everyone living downstream.”
The ruling says the Army Corps must do a new analysis of how the highway’s construction will affect the two dams.
But Blackburn says the legal implication of this ruling goes beyond just that. He says other developers who want to build on the Katy Prairie in the future will have to do more to prevent flooding.
They may have install more retention ponds, for example. Or preserve more of the wetlands so that less water flows downstream.
“All development permits for the Katy Prairie west of the Grand Parkway will have to undergo the same analysis. So until that analysis is completed, I would be very surprised to see any more permits issued for land development that required filling of wetlands in the watershed behind Addicks and Barker reservoirs.”
A spokeswoman for TxDOT says the agency wouldn’t comment on the implications of the judge’s decision. But she says the agency is pleased that construction can proceed and that Segment E will open to drivers next fall.