Friday, February 02, 2007

So Sue Me

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers probably thought they were being glib when they claimed that they couldn't be sued. Well a Federal Judge says otherwise.

Residents of the three areas flooded worst by Hurricane Katrina can sue the Army Corps of Engineers over claims that a poorly designed navigation channel caused catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The Corps and federal government had argued they were immune from claims that the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet caused the damage to the Lower 9th Ward, eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

But U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval refused to throw out a suit claiming that floods in those areas were caused by defects the Corps had known about for decades. There is no way to tell at this point that every decision about the waterway commonly called the "Mr. Go" were based in "social, economic or political policy," which would exempt them from lawsuits, Duval wrote.

Corps officials were not immediately available for comment.

I think speechless would would be more apropos.

At issue is a navigation channel built in the 1950s as a shortcut between the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans.

The channel has widened and allowed salt water to creep into interior marshes and lakes, killing swamp forests and marshlands. Scientists have repeatedly called it one of the worst environmental problems in the nation, and called for it to be closed.

Residents and scientists had long warned that the broad channel acted as a conduit for storm surge from hurricanes. The plaintiffs argued that storm surge roared up through the channel and overwhelmed the levees protecting their homes.

The Corps says the channel did no such thing, and that the storm surge was so high that the channel did little to increase the level of flooding.

The Corps has been reluctant to close the channel, arguing that it still served navigational needs. Shippers have also lobbied the agency to keep it open. Since Katrina, however, the Corps has said plugging the Mr. Go makes sense based on economic considerations, not concerns over flooding.

Duvall said plaintiffs should get a hearing at least about three allegations:

--The Corps failed to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries about their worries about the canal's alignment and its effect on wetlands, and to present those concerns to Congress.

--The number of decisions made in building and maintaining the canal and whether the record shows they were based in policy.

--Whether some decisions were not based in policy, and whether those failed to meet standard engineering practices.

Remember, these are the same people who said that the levees in New Orleans failed because they were overtopped and continued to say that until long after engineers proved conclusively that the levees failed because they were substandard.Discovery in this trial will be very interesting.

No comments: