Katrina compensation urged as judge faults Army Corps

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

Louisiana officials called on the Obama administration Thursday to compensate residents after a federal judge's ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for some of the worst flooding in and around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled late Wednesday that the Corps' "monumental negligence" in maintaining a man-made shipping channel known as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet created what analysts said was a "hurricane highway," channeling floodwaters from the August 2005 storm into eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) said the decision vindicated those who have called Katrina both a natural and man-made disaster, citing the failure of government-built levees and water control systems. She said the federal government needs to make widespread changes in coastal-management and flood-protection efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"I will be working directly with President Obama to ensure that his administration understands the implications of this decision and the immediate need for the government to reach a final resolution," Landrieu said.

Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.) also said he hoped for a "quick resolution" to end the legal battling.

Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the judgment underscored the "urgent need" to reform Corps water-control polices, which have been subject to pork-barrel political interests by lawmakers. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in a statement that he hopes the ruling will end a Corps culture of "gross irresponsibility," but that it was "too little, too late" for residents.

Duval's 156-page order awarded $720,000 in damages to four individuals and one business. Legal analysts said the opinion could open the way to huge judgments against the federal government. About 100,000 people live in the area that was the subject of the lawsuit, said plaintiffs' attorney Jonathan Andry. Overall, 490,000 claims have been filed with the Corps seeking hurricane-related damages.

A military spokesman initially indicated that the Army Corps would take no action on such claims pending appeal, but the Corps and Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller sent a more moderate signal Thursday.

"The department is currently reviewing Judge Duval's decision. We have made no determination as to what the government's next step will be in this matter," Miller said.

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