May 03, 2008

Judge: Corps of Engineers can be sued over Katrina flooding

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Army Corps of Engineers can be held liable for flood damage caused by a "hurricane highway," a navigation channel that is believed to have funneled Hurricane Katrina's storm surge into the city, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The Corps of Engineers had argued that it was immune from liability because the channel is part of New Orleans' flood control system. The law says the federal government cannot be sued if something goes wrong with a flood control project such as a levee, reservoir or dam.

Judge Stanwood Duval dismissed that argument, saying the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, or MRGO, was clearly a ship channel and not a flood control project.

Plaintiffs' lawyers said Duval's decision is a victory for homeowners, who have suffered setbacks in their efforts to hold the government legally responsible for storm damage. They also said it clears the way for a Sept. 8 trial.

The corps "threw everything they had at us, every legal argument they had, their spin on the facts," said Pierce O'Donnell, one of the lead plaintiffs' attorneys.

In January, Duval ruled that the corps was entitled to immunity over flood damage from levee breaches elsewhere in New Orleans.

The government had claimed its immunity should extend to the MRGO, but Duval said that channel and the levee system are separate projects with different funding methods and purposes.

"The United States should not be immunized for a tort which occurred from an activity unrelated to a flood control project," Duval wrote Friday. "Taken to its logical conclusion, such a policy would yield absurd results."

Duval heard arguments from lawyers on both sides in March.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said he couldn't immediately comment on Duval's ruling because the department was still reviewing it.

Duval issued a similar ruling in February 2007, when he denied a motion by the government to dismiss the case. Friday's ruling was significant because Duval was not swayed by subsequent testimony or by evidence the corps brought to have the case thrown out.

The MRGO suit was filed by five residents whose homes flooded after the August 2005 hurricane.

The suit charges the agency with ignoring repeated warnings that the MRGO turned into a "hurricane highway," funneling Katrina's storm surge into St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans and overwhelming levees and flood walls.

The 76-mile shipping channel was built about 40 years ago as a shortcut to New Orleans. For years, environmentalists and emergency planners have blasted the channel as a destructive force because it has eroded enormous tracts of wetlands and increased the threat of flooding.

The Corps of Engineers has acknowledged that the channel contributed to the region's flooding, and the agency is coming up with a plan to plug it.

Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.

Related News

See also:
Hurricane Katrina: No One Can Say they Didn't See it Coming

 "indigo" <nobody at> wrote in message
| news:dfksvl$s46$1 at
| > Dollars to donuts they ain't made up of simple piles of dirt
| > too........downtown Richmond and Wilkes-Barre are protected by enormous
| > concrete dikes with huge steel gates to allow water access during
| non-flood
| > periods. I'll allow that the cost to totally surround a town the size of
| NO
| > like that would be enormous, but.........plain dirt? That's just nuts.
| I don't suppose they can ever just let the water go in NO, except into the
| river and out to sea. But for sure they need to build 'real' barriers, not
| just walls of earth. I heard some folks on the news yesterday accusing the
| powers that be of blowing the levee so that the poor areas would be
| inundated so that the rich parts would be saved. However, I have my doubts
| about this LOL.

River level varies by what happens up stream. I've seen it to the point
were there are only very few (as in 1 or 2) inches from the water level to
the physical top of the levee. In 1927 the have to dynamiting levees the
levee to protect NOLA.

Interesting quote protecting NOLA 'but at the cost of dynamiting levees and
intentionally flooding the poor and politically disenfranchised parishes

Kinda make me laugh at the min-America that hammers folk in NOLA for living
in flood prone local.

BARRY, John M., Center for Bioenvironmental Research, Tulane and
Universities, 1430 Tulane Avenue, SL-3, New Orleans, LA 70112,
jvbarry at

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