Lawsuit May Halt Work on Louisiana Levees

January 17, 2011

Last week report: There is a lawsuit in process which may halt work to reinforce one of the New Orleans canals that broke during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On January 5th, homeowners with backyards along the 17th Street Canal filed a civil suit in state court requesting that work be halted because they claim they have not been compensated for the land where the work will take place – land, they claim, which they own.

The Army Corps of Engineers has plans to being work soon to strengthen the floodwall and levee along the 17th Street Canal, which contributed to the massive flooding of New Orleans on August 29, 2005.

In the suit, seven families are claiming that work crews would be trespassing. Their suit is based on a dispute about whether or not the backyards along the canal are private land, or part of the state’s right-of-way. The suit was filed against the Southeaster Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, and the Orleans Levee District.

The precedent here is unclear. In 2008 homeowners sued for the loss of trees, fences and outbuildings close to the canal levee that were removed to make the floodwalls and levee safer, and a state district judge ruled in their favor, but in 2009, the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal overturned their compensation claims. The new suit brings up similar issues, but seeks to stop work until they are resolved.

The corps plans to improve the canal’s strength by pouring cement deep into the ground to build a subsurfance wall, and to build a new embankment wall along the canal.

Randy Smith, a lawyer for the homeowners explains, “One of our founding principles is no taking of private property without just compensation. No one is against hurricane protection. Our point is, you can take land, but the way you take land is you pay for it.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Anzelmo, Sr., who represents the levee agencies, said that the appellate court was “pretty clear” when it ruled that the state has a right of way along waterways like the 17th street canal. He said the state was merely granting a “right of entry” to the Army Corps, which would be doing the actual work.

Nancy Allen, a spokesperson for the corps said that the new lawsuit is not expected to delay work along the canal. She said that the work is scheduled to be completed by the June deadline set for upgrading New Orleans’ levees. June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season.

A hearing before Civil District Judge Kern Reese has been set for Jan. 14.