Suit Over New Orleans’ 17th Street Canal May Go to Federal Court

February 15, 2011

A lawsuit over property rights along the 17th Street Canal, a canal that broke during Hurricane Katrina, may be headed to federal court.

In January, homeowners with backyards along the 17th Street Canal filed a civil suit in state court to stop work to strengthen a canal that broke catastrophically during Katrina. They claim that they own the land where the work is taking place and they have not been compensated for damage to their properties.

On Jan. 14, New Orleans Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese denied a request to stop the work, but the judge allowed the homeowners to amend their suit and add the Army Corps of Engineers as a defendant.

With the corps as a defendant, Randall Smith, an attorney representing homeowners, told the Times-Picayune newspaper that the suit would move most likely to federal court. Initially, the suit was filed against the Orleans Levee District and the Southeastern Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann says the Justice Department is aware of the amended suit.

In the meantime, there’s been no halt to the five-month, $10.2 million contract won in December by New Orleans-based Bailey-CKY JV to strengthen the 17th Street Canal floodwalls. The new work includes using huge augurs to mix cement with soil up to 80 feet below the surface to strengthen the floodwalls.

In the suit, seven families claim work crews are trespassing. The suit stems from a dispute over whether backyards along the canal are part of the state’s right of way or private land.

“These homeowners have never wanted to stand in the way of proper levee protection,” Smith said. “In this country, when you take private property for the public good, you compensate the owner of the private property.”

Information from: The Times-Picayune

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