The most devastating catastrophe in American history was not an accident. But for the gross negligence of the United States Government-and particularly the Army Corps of Engineers-large portions of Greater New Orleans would not have been flooded.
Like MR-GO itself, what’s below the surface of Robinson v US Army Corps of Engineers is far from simple. The Plaintiffs’ Trial Brief tells the story.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) was tasked to design a hurricane protection system to protect among other areas, New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward, and St. Bernard Parish from a maximum hurricane event. This project was termed the Lake Pontchartrain Vicinity Hurricane Protection Plan (LPVHPP).
Plaintiffs contend that the Corps design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the navigation channel, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) caused or contributed to the failure of the LPVHPP along Reach 2 of the MRGO causing catastrophic flooding of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward in Orleans Parish, along the southern border of New Orleans East, New Orleans East; and along the east bank of the IHNC at the Lower Ninth Ward and causing flooding of both the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
In the supporting Pretrial Proposed Facts and Conclusions of Law, Plaintiffs go 774 items deeper into the Plaintiffs’ claim the Corps is responsible for the MRGO flooding New Orleans and liable for the resulting damage.
…Between 1963 and 2005, the Corps engaged in approximately 147 dredging events and removed approximately 492,422,925 million cubic yards of sediment which became spoil…
The April 11, 2005 Corps Memorandum Corps environmental compliance official
Boe acknowledged that the Corps had segmented its environmental review, issuing periodic Findings of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”), and not preparing a comprehensive evaluation of the significant and cumulative environmental impacts on the environment from O&M dredging and bank erosion that had occurred since its 1976 Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”).
The April 11, 2005 Corps Memorandum concedes that the Corps had not
implemented preferred bank stabilization measures for channel stabilization of the MRGO.
The Corps concedes that pursuant to NEPA, it was required to report that the banks of the MRGO were eroding in an EIS. The Corps concedes that it never evaluated the impact that erosion of the banks of the MRGO had on the health and safety of the human environment.
The Corps concedes significant environment impacts result (a) from erosion, wave
wash, and drawdown effects produced by large vessel traffic causing highly productive marsh to be converted to open water and (b) from saltwater intrusion in the marsh modifying the characterof much of the marsh area.
The Corps acknowledged by the time of its 1988 bank erosion reconnaissance study the erosion had an impact on the human environment which would be regulated by NEPA, but it never incorporated this information into its environmental disclosures—either in the EAs or a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement…
The cumulative impact of all five defects –no surge barriers, “funnel effect,” loss
of wetlands, channel widening, and accelerated and increased subsidence of LPV structures—is synergistic, i.e., acting in combination, they not only significantly increased surge and waves but also materially influenced additional, more sensitive indicators of the MR-GO’s impact such as time of onset, duration, and rate of overtopping by surge.
KatrinaJustice.com provides a summary:
The evidence already available indicates that for decades the Army Corps ignored warnings that its design, construction, and maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (“MR-GO”) posed a clear and present danger to the public health and safety of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. The multiple failures of the Industrial Canal—and drowning of the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, New Orleans East, and St. Bernard Parish—were directly caused by the foreseeable and foreseen funneling effect of wind-driven surges of water in the MR-GO during Hurricane Katrina.
The Plaintiffs’ Pretrial Brief provides the early history.
…Originally conceived as a way to get deep draft ships to the Port of New Orleans facilities in the IHNC from the Gulf of Mexico, the MR-GO failed to realize its commercial justification because of changes in ships (deeper drafts) and the needfor almost continuous dredging to keep the channel open.
The new channel failed to attract the vessel traffic predicted by boosters, averaging less than five inbound and outbound passages per day in a typical year (1998) and carrying only about three percent of the New Orleans port freight tonnage. On the other hand, the MR-GO cost the nation between $10 and $30 million annually for dredging to maintain the authorized channel section at an estimated price of about $13,000 per ship passage.
The flooding of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina – when, with the world watching, the forseeable and forseen became an unimaginable horror.