Justice Delayed, Justice Denied: Katrina and MR-GO

Barges filled with rock are anchored in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet near Bayou La Loutre on Jan. 30, 2009, ready to start blocking the waterway off from the Gulf of Mexico. The work has since been completed, shutting down the channel.

Barges filled with rock are anchored in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet near Bayou La Loutre on Jan. 30, 2009, ready to start blocking the waterway off from the Gulf of Mexico. The work has since been completed, shutting down the channel.

New Orleans        Almost a decade ago, the first reaction after Hurricane Katrina veered slightly to the east of New Orleans was that the city had been spared.  We had ducked the bullet somehow.  Wind and rain were everywhere, trees were falling, the storm was powerful and vicious, but we would be ok.  By the next morning in the aftermath of the storm surge, levees were breached, and 85% of the city was underwater in a catastrophic disaster.

Despite the clarity of scientific and engineering opinion laying the fault on the levee construction and the Corp of Engineers, efforts to win compensation for flooding victims particularly in the lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, independent of FEMA relief funds, have been unsuccessful.  The maze of lawsuits are confusing, but the Times does a good job of explaining their torturous path:

In 2009, a federal judge in New Orleans, Stanwood R. Duval, Jr., ruled that damage related to the MR-GO canal was different because the canal’s purpose was navigation, not flood protection, even though it was line with levees.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [in New Orleans] initially affirmed that decision and then withdrew its decision and overturned Judge Duval.  The Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

This was a distinction with a difference, because though the federal government is normally exempted from claims resulting from failures of flood control projects, Duval’s ruling on the role of navigation in MR-GO was central.  MR-GO stands for the Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet, a more than 75 mile canal used to speed up shipping and barge traffic.

A separate, parallel case on a different legal claim based on the famous “takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment was heard by Judge Susan G. Braden of the US Court of Federal Claims in Washington, and in a huge breakthrough she was now ruled that the government must pay for some of the flooding damage attributed to the storm surge coming from the Gulf of Mexico up through the city from Katrina.   Interestingly, the Judge relied on a 2012 US Supreme Court decision, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission vs. United States where plaintiffs were allowed to recover for property damage due to flooding there.

In a sweet piece of worthless revenge, the Judge also lambasted the US Justice Department for “pursuing a litigation strategy of contesting each and every issue.”  Essentially, after almost a decade the judge sent a message to Justice to stop appealing and get ready to tell the government to pay up.   The judge still has to figure out the award.

Lives were changed forever.  Ten years have gone by.  Will a class action now be filed for the thousands of people in St. Bernard and the lower Ninth Ward, both thinly populated areas still in the early stages of recovery?  Bet on it!  Will any amount of money reclaim the lives lived and time spent in the fight?  Bet against that!

MR-GO is in the process of largely being sealed to secure the city.  The fight to rebuild goes on every day, but justice delayed is still justice denied.  And, you know, as we often say, hey, hold on, it’s only money.  That’s the least of the issues.  Let’s get on with it!

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Tie My Hands – Lil Wayne feat. Robin Thicke

Video Created by Rami Hashish.  (Warning . . . Video contains disturbing images of Hurricane Katrina)

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