Power and Will: Eminent Domain for Preserving Land and Surviving Floods

The Moral Hazard in a Golf Course

 

May 18, 2018

Mention “eminent domain” and ugly associations come to mind. The brutal power of the state. Taking homes and beloved ranch and farm land for development of oil pipelines, highways, powerlines, private for-profit rail lines. Destroying neighborhoods in the name of “urban renewal.” Condemnation.

But what if the government instead used its power of eminent domain to preserve undeveloped land urgently needed for stormwater detention and green space? It can do that. Other cities have done that. Why, the government can even use this power to preserve much needed affordable housing, say for people displaced by flooding. Local governments elsewhere are doing that. (See New York City and Richmond, California.)

Recently there has been controversy over the City of Houston’s role in allowing residential development on more than 100 acres of an unused golf course on Gessner Road in west Houston just east of Addicks Reservoir. Discussion has focused on the folly (and taxpayer burden) of constructing (federally-insured) homes in a floodplain.

But the more critical issue is that local golf courses, including this particular golf course, have been identified as one of the few remaining sources of undeveloped land vitally needed for detaining stormwater and reducing flooding in our highly developed city.

The golf course in question, Pine Crest, drains into Brickhouse Gully, which in turn drains into White Oak Bayou. Both streams are among the top ten fastest rising streams by flow in the state of Texas, according to a recent study by hydrologist Matthew Berg. Also in the top ten is Cole Creek, which flows into the same spot, pointed out Berg in a recent interview.

The decision to allow development of this open space, instead of using it for stormwater detention, is a prime example of creating a moral hazard: placing people in harm’s way knowing that others will pick up the tab for the damages.

No Dispute: This Green Space Is Urgently Needed to Hold Rain Runoff

The 150-acre site of the former Pine Crest golf course on Gessner and Clay roads in west Houston. Culvert in upper right drains into Brickhouse Gully, which has one of the fastest rising streamflows in Texas. Google Earth image Oct. 28, 2017

 

Neighborhoods along all of these streams have experienced repeated flooding, reported the Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium, a group of local scientific experts organized after Harvey. The consortium recommended creating detention, among other remedies, along these streams in its recently released report. (p. 44).

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2 thoughts on “Power and Will: Eminent Domain for Preserving Land and Surviving Floods”

  1. Tracy Stephens says:

    BraeBurn Country Club needs to be taken over with eminent domain to mitigate all the Meyerland and Texas Medical Center Flooding. Even the cost to purchase the club outright is cheaper than buyouts in Meyerland and other major home, businesses repairs.
    There are also 2 golf courses and parks on city’s northeast and east side that also need converting into park detention facilities, this side of city has been effected since Allison Storm over 15 years ago and still nothing.

    1. Thanks, Tracy Stephens. We need to compile a list of golf courses and parks that can be redesigned for stormwater detention.

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