Orange - Two lawyers are organizing a class action against the Sabine River Authority for flooding damage caused when the floodgates at the Toledo Bend Reservoir were opened, spilling water at a rate faster than that of Niagara Falls.
Attorneys John Werner and Adam Nichos from the Reaud, Morgan & Quinn Law Firm in Beaumont held a meeting on March 23 to inform residents of their eligibility to join the suit. The attorneys told the attendees of the meeting that they were eligible to recoup damages under eminent domain.
Eminent domain gives the government and its agents the right to seize property for public use, so long as the owner is given a fair market price for the property. The lawyers did not return requests for comment on the class action, but said during the meeting that the flood was caused by human action and that those people knew what would happen when the choice was made to open the gates.
“It rained more than it ever has and created a new flood of record,” Ann Galassi, Assistant General Manager of Administration at the Sabine River Authority told the Southeast Texas Record.
There was only one thing the Toledo Bend Reservoir was qualified to do to prevent the dam from collapsing, and that was open the flood gates.
“We are not a flood control facility, so we have no flood pool,” Galassi said.
As a result 207,640 feet of water per second was released when all nine of the dam’s gates were raised to 22 feet out of a possible 26. The water damaged homes and businesses near the river in both Texas and Louisiana.
More than 100 caskets were unearthed in Louisiana and had to be retrieved from the water. The remains will need to be identified before they can be returned to families and reburied.
Galassi said that the Sabine River Authority operated according to federal guidelines when deciding when and by how much to open the flood gates. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission directs changes to the capacity of the reservoir under the Toledo Bend Project license based on economic and public interest considerations.
When asked if residents were notified of the potential flooding, Galassi said that emergency management offices in the parishes and in the counties are notified through an advisory.
“This flood event we sent out 26 of them,” Galassi said. “We send them out every single time that we change the gates.”
Home and business owners affected by the flooding may be eligible for help from FEMA and private insurance; however, Werner told meeting attendees that even residents who receive money from these sources may still be eligible to join the class action.
The Sabine River Authority declined to comment on the possible lawsuit, but has declared that there is a possibility the FERC guidelines could change. Concerned residents are encouraged to email or call the FERC to express their views on possible changes.
Even if changes to the policies are approved, it could take years for them to be implemented.