Don Ray woke up worried early one morning in April, 2009. It had been raining hard all night, so he and his wife quickly started to move everything they could manage in their Memorial City home off of the floor and up to higher ground. Then all they could do was watch as the water quickly rose over the banks of the nearby bayou and crept slowly into their house until it eventually covered every room on the ground level.
"It left a heck of a mess," Ray said Wednesday night as he addressed a crowd of about 300 fellow residents gathered inside the Memorial Middle School auditorium to discuss a potential lawsuit against the city of Houston. The residents claim the city is responsible for failing to protect them from flooding. Ray said he moved out a few days after that 2009 flood, and his home, beyond repair, was eventually torn down. "There was no reason the house should have flooded. It never flooded before. The city wasn't looking out for us. We've asked for help, but it doesn't seem like they hear us."
Members of the non-profit group Residents Against Flooding discussed the reasons for the lawsuit and the plan of attack. The group's chair, Ed Browne, said the city needs to create retention ponds, set up special drainage zones and make policy changes to "prevent things that cause flooding." He also said the city compounded flooding in traditionally unaffected areas like Memorial City by allowing rampant commercial development to alter the landscape.
"Your living rooms have been converted into retention ponds by developers," Browne said. "We're not getting protection from the city, but the developers are. We have reasonable, sensible solutions that can be implemented."
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According to members of Residents Against Flooding, many homes in the Memorial City area had never experienced serious flooding before a torrential rainstorm in April, 2009. That event was described as a storm-of-the-century type flood. But just six years later, the area was again badly flooded after the heavy Memorial Day rains, prompting the group to restart efforts to file a lawsuit, which had stalled since the 2009 flood.
The group's team of constitutional law experts, environmental law specialists and hydrological engineers described the strategy for what will likely be a federal lawsuit, claiming the city's supposed failure to prevent homes from flooding equals an unconstitutional seizure of property. The lawsuit is still far from being filed (members asked attendees at the meeting for patience and financial support), but from the meeting's large turnout it is clear that many Memorial City residents are still searching for answers after the Memorial Day flood.
You can find out more about Residents Against Flooding on the group's website, drainagecoalition.com.