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Federal Judge Says Corps of Engineers Liable For Katrina Damage 486

Posted by timothy
from the too-bad-a-judge-didn't-do-the-engineering dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports that a federal judge has ruled 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 August 29, 2005 by failing to stop the natural widening of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet canal (aka Mr. Go) causing it to eventually bump up against the shore of Lake Borgne, on the city's east side. '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,' wrote US District Court Judge Stanwood Duval. Judge Duval said he believed it was the failure to shore up the outlet that 'doomed the channel to grow to two to three times its design width' allowing 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. 'One of the greatest catastrophes in the history of the US' was both predictable and preventable, testified veteran Louisiana geologist Sherwood Gagliano, a former Corps consultant."
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Federal Judge Says Corps of Engineers Liable For Katrina Damage

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  • by VShael (62735) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:26AM (#30170190) Journal

    While Katarina was ongoing, there were plenty of independent news outlets running video footage of professionals warning what would happen. It made the Bush mantra of "No one could have predicted..." out to be just as much of a joke as the "No one could have predicted..." 9-11 version. (And then the Aug 6th PDB title was released.)

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:39AM (#30170282)
    From what I remember the Corp has been begging since 1965 for money to make the changes. Every year state and federal funds went to things that were at that time deemed more important.
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:43AM (#30170312) Homepage

    funding for the flood control project essentially dried up

    I think that one deserves a rim shot [instantrimshot.com].

    But yes, one of the many causes of Hurricane Katrina was short-termism and a "cut government spending" ideology that led to underfunding of essential maintenance of levees, bridges and other not-so-glamorous infrastructure in many parts of the country.

  • Re:What? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:45AM (#30170320)
    Before any american says anything stupid: Amsterdam is in Holland, which is the part of the Netherlands closest to the sea. So a lot of Amsterdam is below -5m (I know my house is) ...
    And as all americans know you can party 'below the sea' in Amsterdam a hell of a lot better than the Little Mermaid does...
  • Re:What? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:59AM (#30170452)

    How many hurricanes do they get a year and at what intensity?

  • Re:What? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Friday November 20, 2009 @10:17AM (#30170636)

    When those houses were first built, more than a century ago, they were above everyday river levels. The continuous building of levees has cause the river to silt its bed and raise itself up above the surrounding land. Levee building on a silty river is a job which, once started, can never be stopped. Better, but more expensive in the short term, would be to have dredged the river down rather than levee it up. But this was a gradual process - there was no day (until Katrina) in which the inhabitants could say that their homes (and major capital assets) has suddenly become uninhabitable. They depended on assurances from City, State and Engineers that they would be "all right", that the levees were up to their needs. And why should they not accept the assurances of the people who are supposed to know?

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday November 20, 2009 @10:28AM (#30170738) Journal
    The Corps has recommended the levees be strengthened. It was very well known that New Orleans was in danger long before Katrina. Heck my daughter found a Nat Geo article with maps predicting flooding way before Katrina while looking for pictures to cut and paste for a 2nd grade project. The cities and the state and the feds never gave it the funding needed and diverted the funding to dredge shipping channels for the super tankers to ply through.

    Now Corps would have a case against the city and the state and let it transfer the liability to the city.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wilder_card (774631) on Friday November 20, 2009 @10:30AM (#30170762)

    You, like most people, are overlooking a few facts here. New Orleans used to be well inland and above sea level. A long series of environmentally disastrous policies lowered the water table, removed natural barriers, concentrated storm surges, and generally guaranteed that NO was a disaster waiting to happen.

    Unfortunately the government and Army Corps aren't legally liable for severe technical malpractice and rank stupidity. This suit slips through a loophole in the legal immunity the government gave the Corps.

    New Orleans could be saved. And the cost of abandoning a major city is immense, far more than building better hurricane defenses. Building better hurricane walls will cost far more than restoring wetlands, allowing the water table to recover, and re-engineering the waterways. Of course, the best/cheapest solution is probably the one least likely to be selected by our broken political process.

    And the cheapest solution of all (short-term) is to blame the victim and do nothing. It's worked really well so far.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 20, 2009 @10:41AM (#30170902)

    What we have here is a professional organization said the situation was unsafe and recommended a fix. The customer did not elect to implement the fix. Then when things went wrong the customer is trying to blame that organization for not having recommended something else.

    Its total crap.

    Not total. The Corp's own study said they had problems:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/02/MNGK5J6CA61.DTL

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 20, 2009 @11:07AM (#30171210)

    These very factors are why the smart and able people evacuated, like my family. AND these reasons are why home owner's insurance policies are now being written with much more stringent base flood elevation requirements. The number of homes in the worst hit areas are being raise 4 to 12 feet is impressive, now some of these folks will actually have a chance of not having their homes destroyed if another levee failure happens.

    The lessons learned in New Orleans after Katrina are the lessons that folks who have lived along the coast of Florida and elsewhere have known for a while. Hurricanes come and they blow shit over and make water rise up to crazy heights. So if you want your stuff to make it through you need to build your house up about the storm surge height and add some extra strapping to your roof and walls to keep them from blowing away.

    Having grown up in Florida, lived in New Orleans for 3 years up to Katrina, and now being back in New Orleans again I have only modest levels of sympathy for the folks who lost everything, seeing as I lost a good deal myself. But I was properly insured, evacuated as advised and knew what to expect from 21 years of hurricanes in Florida. The anger needs to be directed at the incompetent local government that didn't take care of its own. Nagin waited too long to order the evacuation and, instead of using the city's fleets of public and school buses to get people out he had everyone go to the Superdome and people died en masse because of his and other local politician's incompetence. And yet he got re-elected because he and the idiot populi blamed the federal government rather than pointing the finger where it rightfully belonged.

  • by Ceiynt (993620) on Friday November 20, 2009 @11:09AM (#30171232)
    Ya, Cause GWB told the Louisiana government how to spend the federal money sent to them. Oh, and what about Mr. Clinton? Did he stand up for 8 years demanding the NO levees be reinforced to handle a Cat5? It's not the president's responsibility to tell states how to spend money. It's congress critters that do that.
  • by smoker2 (750216) on Friday November 20, 2009 @11:12AM (#30171276) Homepage Journal
    How exactly is a city so important to trade routes based on a river ? If it had never been built the river would still exist, and all that was needed was occasional dredging to keep the water way clear. Without New Orleans you lose nothing. But you seem to want to start from now and work backwards in your estimation of importance. The simple fact is, that when NO was built, they built it on DRY LAND, not reclaimed mud. Which bits survived the hurricane ?
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BlackSnake112 (912158) on Friday November 20, 2009 @11:14AM (#30171286)

    Also many experts (including the Army Corps of Engineers) were saying to replace the NO levees back in the 1960s. New data (1960 data) suggested that the levees could fail if a cat 3 or greater storm hit. new Orleans did not want it done, the construction would get in way of the partying (ie money coming in).

    I saw that on the history channel. Why wasn't that footage brought in?

  • Why all that straw? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 20, 2009 @11:41AM (#30171658)

    Why all that straw?

    Army Engineers are paid by the army, not by the Louisiana state.

    And nobody says they had to withstand a Cat 5. All "Cat 3+" statements until you brought that little piece of hay out.

    And didn't shrub rejoice in the fact that he'd been reelected strongly and was one of the longest serving presidents? And in all that time, he didn't demand it be upgraded either.

  • Re:What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mordac (1009) on Friday November 20, 2009 @12:18PM (#30172160)

    I wish this was right at the top. I was hoping someone would point out that New Orleans was not naturally in a dangerzone.

    The Army Corp of Engineers over a century of work has done so much damage to the surrounding wetlands that the Gulf has encroached hundreds of miles, and the city itself has sunk. The Army Corp in trying to tame the Mississippi doomed New Orleans to this fate, and then did nothing to protect it. Instead they waste money on dredging more channels that will be barely if ever used, and lead to more damaged wetlands and increased flooding.

  • Re:What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mvdwege (243851) <mvdwege@mail.com> on Friday November 20, 2009 @12:45PM (#30172656) Homepage Journal

    Actually, they did. In 1953, some 1800 people drowned when storms combined with a high tide ripped through the dikes. Some people died in England too.

    The difference is, the government took a good look at the dike system, and decided it wasn't up to scratch. Cue a massive program of dike improvements and dams to shorten the coastline, and we're expected to be safe from catastrophic floods for millennia.

    Now, if you compare the dikes around the Dutch polders to the levees in New Orleans, it becomes clear where to put the blame. The Netherlands, having a much smaller chance of catastrophic climate events (like a surge tide during storm) has much heavier dikes than the levees at NO. So NO is woefully underprepared. And who is responsible for that?

    Mart

  • Re:What? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Neofluffybunny (1647855) on Friday November 20, 2009 @12:45PM (#30172664)
    If that is true, the LA is abusing the right. I work for an insurance company who writes in LA. There are people there who think that a storm comes, they get $300. Doesn't matter what for. Its not a matter of having the money to get out, they have a mentality that people owe them something. 3 of every 10 homes have damage that has not been repaired from Katrina. The stories I have from LA are limitless. People wanting get paid back for staying in 5 star hotels for almost a month even though they were only evacuated for 2 days. (a more recent hurricane).
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jc42 (318812) on Friday November 20, 2009 @01:17PM (#30173232) Homepage Journal

    There have also been any number of stories published about the Army Corps of Engineers' analyses of the New Orleans levee system over the past decade. The Corps sent a good number of reports to Congress, predicting most of what actually happened during Katrina. This included pinpointing all the actual points of failure. They submitted proposals for maintenance and enhancements. Congress pretty much turned them all down.

    So yes, the Army Corps of Engineering was "responsible", in the obvious sense that they understood the situation quite well, knew what had to be done, and didn't do it. They didn't do it because they were denied the funding.

    The Dutch situation is an interesting comparison. A similar storm devastated Holland in 1953, breaching the dikes and flooding most of the area below sea level. Their response was a huge project to improve their system so it wouldn't happen again. An interesting aspect of this was that their engineers got together with Japanese engineers, because Japan is the country with the most people living below sea level, and they had a lot of useful experience with dikes and levees. The result was greatly improved technology in both countries. Japan's situation is even worse: Millions of people live below sea level in the Tokyo-Yokohama metro area, they're in a major earthquake zone, and they have frequent hurricanes (or typhoons if you prefer). If you're into natural disasters, the history of this area makes for some interesting reading.

    The US government tends to take a different approach, more like "We're the most advanced society in the world, and we don't have anything to learn from the rest of you turkeys." Their attitude towards New Orleans has also been pretty clear, along the lines of what others have said here: "That's what you get for living in a flood zone." I.e., "Tough luck, suckers."

    But the American population keeps voting for them, so what happened must be what most Americans want, right?

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