New Orleans may join decade-old hurricane flood suit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans officials are compiling information about hurricane damage to municipal property in the city's Lower 9th Ward, now that a federal judge has ruled the U.S. government bears liability for some of the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina and other storms.

City Attorney Sharonda Williams said Thursday that the information is being compiled as the city considers whether to join a St. Bernard Parish lawsuit filed in 2005 over storm damage blamed on a now-closed U.S-built ship channel — the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

Judge Susan Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington ruled last week that the construction, operation and maintenance of the outlet caused environmental damage and wetlands loss as well as increased storm surge, contributing to flood damage by Hurricane Katrina and other storms in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward and in neighboring St. Bernard Parish.

Plaintiffs in the case are the St. Bernard government and several property owners.

"We have been in contact with the plaintiffs' attorneys already," Williams said.

Much remains unclear following Braden's ruling, including how much money is at stake and who might eventually be in line to receive it. The plaintiffs asked for the lawsuit to be certified as a class action that would cover many property owners in St. Bernard and the Lower 9th Ward. A ruling on that was pending.

Federal lawyers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the MRGO, have declined comment and it remains unclear whether they will appeal. A closed-door conference was held this week in New Orleans to determine whether the parties would agree to have damages worked out by a mediator, but nobody would comment about what went on in the meeting.

Williams said the city could file to intervene in the suit or seek to take part as a member of the affected class.

She said she hopes information on affected properties can be compiled in the next couple of weeks. How much the city might be due would rely on numerous factors, including payments that have already been received as aid or insurance.

"There is the potential for some offset if we've already been paid for certain damage," she said.

Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, causing widespread damage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in southeast Louisiana. Levees in New Orleans failed and about 80 percent of the city flooded. The Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish were among the hardest hit areas.



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