VIA: New Orleans Times-Picayune
In a groundbreaking decision, a federal judge ruled late Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement of maintenance at the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet was directly responsible for flood damage in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina.
The failure of the Corps to recognize the destruction that the MRGO had caused and the potential hazard that it created is clearly negligent on the part of the Corps,” said U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. in his ruling. “Furthermore, the Corps not only knew, but admitted by 1988, that the MRGO threatened human life … and yet it did not act in time to prevent the catastrophic disaster that ensued with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.”
“The Corps’ lassitude and failure to fulfill its duties resulted in a catastrophic loss of human life and property in unprecedented proportions,” Duval wrote. “The Corps’ negligence resulted in the wasting of millions of dollars in flood protection measures and billions of dollars in Congressional outlays to help this region recover from such a catastrophe. Certainly, Congress would never have meant to protect this kind of nonfeasance on the part of the very agency that is tasked with the protection of life and property.”
Duval’s 156-page decision could result in the federal government paying $700,000 in damages to three people and a business in those areas, but also sets the stage for judgments worth billions of dollars against the government for damages suffered by as many as 100,000 other residents, businesses and local governments in those areas who filed claims with the corps after Katrina.
Ellis Lucia / The Times-PicayuneWDSU news anchor Norman Robinson in 2005Duval ruled, however, that WDSU-TV anchor Norman Robinson and his wife were not entitled to damages because the corps’ dredging of the MR-GO did not affect the levee system that protects eastern New Orleans from hurricane storm surge. That probably means eastern New Orleans residents would not be able to collect on claims they’ve filed against the corps, said attorneys representing plaintiffs in the case.
“The people of this city have been vindicated,” said attorney Joseph Bruno, a leader of the large team of lawyers who represented the plaintiffs. “They didn’t do anything wrong and it’s time they be compensated.”
“Judge Duval exposed 40 years of the Army Corps of Engineers’ gross malfeasance with regard to the operation and maintenance of the MR-GO,” said Pierce O’Donnell, a Los Angeles-based attorney and co-leader of the plaintiff’s legal team. “His decision is an extreme condemnation of the lack of concern for the safety of New Orleans and St. Bernard residents.”
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