From Surviving to Thriving -- The National Environmental Policy Act and Disasters
by Joel Mintz | September 21, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.
In August, 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought widespread devastation to the southeastern United States, destroying buildings, flooding neighborhoods, and taking lives. Harvey shattered the national rainfall record for a single storm, dropping over 50 inches of rain in a 36-hour period. The Houston area suffered massive flooding, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attempted to balance flooding behind strained older retention dams while releasing water to avoid dam breaches.
However, even before the unprecedented rainfall of Hurricane Harvey, severe problems had been noted at the dams. In 2016, the Army Corps noted that the dams needed repair and that a failure would be catastrophic. The federal government concluded that the dams were in critical condition in 2009. The Army Corps had multiple opportunities to evaluate the state of the dams decades before the problem reached crisis level.
In fact, despite raising the dams, rebuilding the gates, and creating various additional outflows, the Corps never did an environmental impact assessment, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The Corps’ last major construction on the dams in 2015 cost more than $100 million, but the project
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