Federal Judge Holds Corps Responsible in Katrina Flooding Case

November 19, 2009

A federal judge in Louisiana has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to properly maintain and operate the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet MRGO was a substantial cause for the flooding of part of the New Orleans-area during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In the class-action case, filed a month and a half after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in August 2005, the plaintiffs contended that continuing environmental damage resulting from construction by the Corps of the MRGO, a 75-mile, man-made shipping channel dubbed “hurricane highway,” left the area vulnerable to flooding.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. wrote in a 156-page opinion released Nov. 18 in Katrina Canal Breaches Consolidated Litigation (No. 05-4182) that “the negligence of the Corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MRGO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness. For over forty years, the Corps was aware that the Reach II levee protecting Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward was going to be compromised by the continued deterioration of the MRGO.”

While the Corps had the “opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration,” it failed to do so, Judge Stanwood Duval wrote.

He said the Corps had introduced no evidence in the course of the court proceedings that “tips the balance in its favor.”

The judge awarded some $700,000 in damages to three individuals and one business in the St. Bernard Parish area. However, the award raises the possibility that the government may be liable for billions of dollars of damages suffered by more than 120,000 other area businesses and residents who filed similar claims after Katrina.

Judge Duval found in this case that the Corps’ failure to maintain the MRGO did not contribute to the flooding in New Orleans East after Katrina.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling may be found online at www.laed.uscourts.gov/CanalCases/Orders/19415.pdf.

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