Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Army Corps Liable for Katrina Damage, US Court Finds

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Army Corps Liable for Katrina Damage, US Court Finds

Article excerpt

Confirming what many New Orleanians already knew in their hearts, a federal judge ruled late Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers - and thus the US government - is liable for a big chunk of the damage caused when hurricane Katrina pushed ashore on Aug. 29, 2005.

The landmark ruling awards $719,000 to four plaintiffs from the city's Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish who filed suit in 2006. The only such liability suit to actually reach a courtroom, the so-called "Mr. Go" ruling (after a shipping channel in the area) opens the floodgates for a raft of new litigation from as many as 100,000 other residents.

More important, the ruling - which called the Army Corps "myopic" in its maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet canal (aka Mr. Go) - now puts pressure on President Obama to help the region settle claims that could reach into the billions of dollars. (Without a court judgment, the Bush administration had refused calls for a settlement.)

At the beginning of the trial this summer, US District Court Judge Stanwood Duval asked, "You all know what this is about: ... What did the Corps know, when did it know it, and when should it have known?"

He answered in a 158-page ruling late Wednesday.

"It is the court's opinion that the negligence of the corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MR-GO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia, and shortsightedness," he wrote.

During testimony this summer, veteran Louisiana geologist Sherwood Gagliano, a former Corps consultant, testified that the Corps' failure to stop the natural widening of the canal caused it to eventually bump up against the shore of Lake Borgne, on the city's east side.

During the hurricane, that breach allowed waves on Lake Borgne to enter the Mr. Go and travel into the east side of the city, battering the levees to a degree to which they were not designed.

The 76-mile-long Mr. Go was built in 1965 as a shortcut from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. …

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