A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Army Corps of Engineers bears responsibility for catastrophic flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because the agency failed to properly maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) shipping channel.
"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," U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. said in a 189-page ruling. "Furthermore the Corps not only knew, but admitted by 1988, that the MRGO threatened human life."
Six homeowners and businesses sued the government in the wake of the disaster, claiming that the Army Corps' poor construction and upkeep of the shipping channel were directly responsible for flooding in three hard-hit neighborhoods.
Duval ruled in favor of the five plaintiffs who lived in the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish. "For over 40 years," he wrote, "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."
But he ruled against a couple who lived in New Orleans East who contended the Army Corps' decision not to build a surge protection barrier there led to the flooding of their property.
Duval's ruling paves the way for more than 100,000 other businesses and residents to seek billions of dollars of combined damages from the government.
The Justice Department last year determined the United States could face as much as $100 billion in damages as a result of Katrina-related court claims.
The government is expected to appeal the ruling.