Score One for the Corps

A federal district judge has dealt a severe — though not unexpected blow — to the hundreds of thousands suing the Army Corps of Engineers for the flooding in the aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina that swamped the city of New Orleans.On Jan. 14, “Inside the Headquarters” told you about the thousands of lawsuits totaling in the quadrillions of dollars against the Corps of Engineers for its part in alleged faulty levee and flood wall construction in and around the city. Locals have blamed the Corps (and not nature, God, gods, local miscalculations) with the requisite wailing and gnashing of teeth. (The over-the-top media coverage seemed only to fuel this theater of the absurd, as network news anchors shamefully laid blame with little knowledge about the complexities of a natural disaster and local realities.)Again, we digress. Though little reaches resolution in the Land that Time and God Forgot, Judge Standwood R. Duval Jr. (another great south Louisiana name), ruled in favor of the Corps, citing the Flood Control Act of 1928 “granted legal immunity to the government in the event of failure of flood control projects like levees.” But he did so grudgingly (during Mardi Gras, no less), seeming to lay blame on the Corps and federal government, feeding into plaintiffs’ thirst for blood — and ensuring this case will move forward.Specifically in question are the 17th Street Canal, the Orleans Avenue Canal, and the London Avenue Canal that serve as conduits draining rainwater from New Orleans. Their failure caused most of the flooding. The tremendous storm surge from Lake Ponchartrain overwhelmed these canals and their crucial pumps and BAM — gone. So, no one sues the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board (the bloated and marginally competent city office that everyone loves to hate) — the office responsible for the canals and their pumps? The federal government has much deeper pockets.




Levees and canals fail. Bridges collapse. As experts have noted for decades, some bodies of water are not meant to be contained. These facts coupled with this misplaced faith in lawsuits and the need to blame something tangible for a natural disaster will continue to hamper recovery in a city that wrestles with its own decades-old demons. Scapegoat? Maybe the federal government can engage in the eminent domain game.

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