Trial against corps over Katrina flooding ends

Friday, May 15th 2009, 12:42 pm
By: News 9

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A trial against the Army Corps of Engineers for the flooding of eastern New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina ended Thursday after four weeks of testimony.
   Now, U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. will take the case under consideration and rule sometime in the coming weeks or months.
   The lawsuit was the first major case against the federal government over Katrina flooding to go to trial. Much is at stake because the fate of more than 120,000 other claims by individuals, businesses and government bodies hinge on Duval's ruling. The claims amount to billions of dollars in damages.
   The suit claims the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a 76-mile shipping channel the Army Corps dug in the late 1950s as a shortcut between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, led to the destruction of the environment southeast of New Orleans and the devastating flooding during Katrina.
   A decision rests with Duval because a jury cannot try a case against the federal government. Duval has not indicated how or when he might rule.
   The trial has been an in-depth exploration of conflicting expert testimony about highly technical issues -- dense with debate about soil types, hydrodynamic modeling, differential equations, slope stability, lateral displacement, factors of safety, still water levels and the physics of wave action.
   Now, Duval will have to make sense of divergent scientific and engineering analyses and decide one of the most unusual legal cases ever brought against the federal government: Was the Army Corps at fault for the flooding of New Orleans?
   At the close of the trial Thursday, Duval acknowledged the difficult task ahead of him.
   "This political science major is going to have to go through this and do the best job I can, which I will do," Duval said. "We have had some very smart people testify here over the last month and the court has been very impressed with the caliber of expert witness."
   The plaintiffs are asking for damages between $300,000 and $400,000 for each individual. If the corps is held liable, the plaintiffs lawyers said they would like Congress to set up a compensation fund similar to one set up for victims of the 1974 break of Idaho's Teton Dam for the tens of thousands of other people with Katrina claims.
   "There have been cases like this," said Gerald Galloway, a levee expert and civil engineering professor at the University of Maryland, "but nothing on the scope of the MRGO because you're bringing in all the losses of New Orleans."