Federal Lawsuit Could Halt Development on Galveston's West End

On the eve of an important City Council vote that could determine the future of Galveston Island's West End, several preservationist groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the Army Corp of Engineers. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the suit seeks to force the Corp to stop granting development permits until it knows more about the environmental impact of new projects.

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The lawsuit filed in Galveston Federal Court is specifically aimed at stopping a proposed development on the West End called Anchor Bay, but would in the process encompass all future West End development, including a huge residential project planned by Chicago-based Marquette Land Investments. Galveston Beach to Bay Preserve is one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Bill Broussard is the group's director.

"This is a suit that is requesting that the Corps of Engineers be held to account and could set a precedent nationally so that we have a much more responsible ecological development and the impact of a storm like Katrina and the responsibility of the Corps to see that it isn't that severe could be significantly changed nationally before we're through."ξ

The suit alleges the Army Corp of Engineers has been overworked and hasn't had the time to do an adequate environmental impact study on the West End. Jim Blackburn is the environmental attorney who filed the lawsuit.

"I don't think the Corps is sloppy. I think that the Corp has failed to correctly analyze these impacts as is required by federal law. Cumulative impacts is a very hard issue. We have a different legal interpretation than the Corps does and that's why we're going to court, to get the judiciary to resolve that."ξ

The issue is a very personal one for residents on the Island's West End who don't want to see what they consider precious wetlands and wildlife preserves surrounded by dense residential developments. Beach to Bay Preserve President Dr. Alice Anne O'Donell says it's easy to take for granted.

"Everybody that drives out there drives off the end of the Seawall and gets to 8 Mile Road. Well here's this incredible three miles of pasture and cattle and they've been seeing that for 100 years. What they don't know is if the development continues, they'll see another little city out there."

Tomorrow, Galveston City Council will vote on whether to grant rezoning requests by Marquette Land Investments, a pivotal decision that carries with it a host of political implications and possibly the future of development on the West End. This is Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas.

"Galveston is small, so a Marquette development, which will be our first 1,100-acre, master-planned development, is something very new to Galveston. It's very challenging. Passions run high on a myriad of subjects, and certainly when it comes to the environment."

Representatives with Marquette Land Investments were not available for comment. Previously, the developer has said if the city turns down its rezoning requests, it would consider selling the land in parcels. Galveston Beach to Bay officials and other groups say they're ready to buy the land if it goes on the market again.


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