SLABBED Daily – April 20 UPDATED

going, going, gone – MRGO has gone to trial

Starting in federal court today, a group of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish residents will square off against the Army Corps of Engineers in a trial they hope will prove that failure to properly build and maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet eroded protective wetlands and led to massive flooding that destroyed their homes and businesses during Hurricane Katrina.

The corps will try to convince Judge Stanwood Duval that even with the best possible maintenance of the MR-GO, only better and higher hurricane protection levees could have held back the storm surge.

The trial, expected to last three to four weeks, will be conducted by Duval without a jury.

MR-GO gets ready to go to trial – Part 1- the government’s seven motions in limine

Breaking News – Judge Duval denies six of seven motions in limine filed in MRGO

MR-GO gets ready – Part 2- Duval’s Order on motions in limine gives Plaintiffs green light to try their case

MR-GO gets ready to go – Part 3 – the Plaintiffs’ case

MR-GO gets ready to go – Part 4 – the Defense

Judge Duval rules – and says so in an Order

The trial is getting under way as work continues to close the MR-GO, which opened in 1963 as a shortcut for large ships between the Gulf of Mexico and the Industrial Canal in New Orleans.

Almost two years later, Hurricane Betsy hit in September 1965, flooding parts of the city, including Gentilly and the Lower 9th Ward, as well as Arabi and Chalmette.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, among them WDSU-TV news anchor and eastern New Orleans resident Norman Robinson and his wife, have said that if Duval rules for their clients and the decision is upheld on appeal, thousands of additional Katrina flood victims in eastern New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard could seek compensation from the federal government.

Moreover, the plaintiffs’ attorney have vowed that if they win the case, they will ask President Barack Obama and Congress to help resolve the claims of all Katrina flooding victims.

The Robinson case and a pending MR-GO class action are the only surviving federal lawsuits against the corps on behalf of Katrina flood victims.

Last year, Duval dismissed a class action against the corps over failure of drainage canal levees during the 2005 storm. He cited a 1928 federal law that makes the corps immune from liability for damage caused by its flood-protection projects.

But Duval decided the Robinson case could proceed because it involves a navigation project, for which the corps has no immunity under law.

Besides the Robinsons, other plaintiffs in the trial starting Monday are former Tulane football player Kent Lattimore, who lost his St. Bernard trailer home and his real estate appraisal business to the floodwaters; nurse Tanya Smith, whose custom-built Chalmette residence, shared with two young sons, was ravaged by Katrina; and Lucille and Anthony Franz Jr., whose home and source of retirement income, a five-apartment complex, were lost to the flooding.

SLABBED will be following the case throughout the trial.

UPDATE: The Times Picayune reports morning testimony.

Construction of the 77-mile Mississippi River Gulf Outlet beginning in the late 1950s dramatically increased the salt water levels in the marshlands of St. Bernard Parish, leading to a change in animal life in previously freshwater areas, a coastal geologist testified in federal court here Monday.

Sherwood Gaglino was the first witness for New Orleans and St. Beranrd residents who blame the the deep draft channel built by the Army Corps of Engineers for flooding that destroyed their homes in Hurricane Katrina.

Gagliano, who has studied the area in question for years, said that before the MRGO was built, crawsfish and frogs populated the St. Bernard wetlands, but after the project, “We had redfish, marine and estuarine species.”‘

Gagliano was hired by St. Bernard officials in 1972 to gauge the impact the lengthy channel, built as a shortcut for deep draft ships from the Gulf to the Industrial Canal, on the parish’s geological and human environment. He said that to his knowledge, the Corps never responded to his findings.

Gagliano said the parish engaged him to do an environmental impact statement because local officials were concerned about, and opposed to, a Corps proposal to widen and deepen the MRGO and create a ship anchorage near Violet.

Under questioning by California lawyer Pierce O’Donnell, part of a team of local and out-of-state attoneys pressing the case, Gagliano said there had been fears that tides would flow with greater force from the meeting point of the MRGO and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, fears he said came true later.

“During (Hurricane) Betsy, it created pressure on the Industial Canal floodwalls, and also during Katrina,” he said.

The trial, which U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval is hearing without a jury, is expected to last three to four weeks.

The plaintiffs, among them WDSU TV news anchor Norman Robinson and his wife, will try to persuade the judge that the Corps ignored environmental law in maintaining the MRGO, allowing the waterway to becomet wider and wider and destroy levees in the process. The changes ultimately caused the channel to become a fast-track path for the storm surge that destroyed their homes and businesses, they argue.

The Corps will try to convince Duval that even with the best possible maintenance of the MR-GO, only better and higher hurricane protection levees could have held back Katrina’s floodwaters…

The Robinson case and a pending MR-GO class-action suit are the only surviving federal lawsuits against the corps on behalf of Katrina flood victims.

Last year, Duval dismissed a class-action against the corps over failure of drainage canal levees during the 2005 storm. He cited a 1928 federal law that makes the corps immune from liability for damage caused by its flood-protection projects.

But Duval decided the Robinson case could proceed because it involves a navigation project, for which the corps has no immunity under law.

Besides the Robinsons, other plaintiffs in the trial starting today are former Tulane football player Kent Lattimore, who lost his St. Bernard trailer home and his real estate appraisal business to the flood waters; nurse Tanya Smith, whose custom-built Chalmette residence, shared with two young sons, was ravaged by Katrina; and Lucille and Anthony Franz Jr., whose home and source of retirement income, a five-apartment complex, were lost to the flooding.

One thought on “SLABBED Daily – April 20 UPDATED”

  1. Hey Y’all!
    You ought to include that great piece you did on the van Heerden firing as it related to some ancient poetry and directly to the MRGO? hehehe…
    Jus’sayin… it’s a farkin’grrrrrreat piece!

    Anyway, I have been hunting the nets for different articles on this opening round and hang them on da’Ladda. The most major one is by Cain Burdeaux AP. That boy I swear, 95% spread on just one article! HA! Editilla taught him every’ting he knowz don’t’cha knowz. But really, Cain is the usual gumshoe on the beat with any story from down herah. What I mean by spread is that, I watch the internet with about 2 dozen different aggregated search engines. I like to follow Corps articles, the way you follow that yellow foam? Anyway, so when something big shakes I watch it flow across the country amidst the different media outlets as many as I can find. The Corps has VERY GOOD PR SPREAD. But so does Cain Burdeaux! Sooooo… when you see a story in just about any media outlet chances are it is the same story posted over and over and over…
    But we also have LA Times, CS Monitor and our new friend Carol Forsloff, who tags Sandy Rosenthal by name. Yea!

    So there an update, bout the only date poor Editilla can chase down these days but it will have to do for now.
    Trust me, I get muuuuch wittier with more wine.
    T’anks Youz!

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