Thursday, July 27, 2006

Corps of Engineers

Words fail me. From today's Times Picayune:

Corps: We can't be held liable
Engineers ask judge to dismiss lawsuit

Thursday, July 27, 2006
By Susan Finch

Arguing that it can't be held liable for damage caused by flooding and that Congress allows it discretion to choose construction methods, the Army Corps of Engineers has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that blames the agency for flooding that destroyed homes in eastern New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish after Hurricane Katrina.
The lawsuit was filed in April by WDSU-TV anchorman and eastern New Orleans resident Norman Robinson, a Lower 9th Ward couple and two St. Bernard residents.

They charge that corps negligence since 1958 in the construction, design, operation and maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet eroded wetlands, which had slowed storms down, and turned the ship channel into a superhighway that funneled Katrina's powerful tidal surges toward them, breaking levees along the way.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs maintain that while the 1928 law protects the corps against lawsuits over its flood-control projects, it does not bar claims for damage resulting from corps navigation projects, such as the MR-GO. They maintain that a 1971 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after Hurricane Betsy in a case called Graci v. United States established the MR-GO as a navigation aid, not a flood-control project.

But in a 51-page memorandum they handed U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval on Monday, corps attorneys maintain the plaintiffs' legal team is wrong.

First, they said, the Graci decision has been supplanted by a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said, "Whenever damages result 'from or by flood or flood waters,' the United States is absolutely immune."

"The flood at issue in Graci was not one that involved a federal flood control project; the flood at issue here is one that did," the corps argues.

The corps lawyers also fault what they say is the other side's failure to take into account the additional protection afforded since Hurricane Betsy by levees the corps has built around the New Orleans area.

"Inasmuch as the plaintiffs' alleged damages result from floodwaters that the flood control project failed to control, the immunity afforded (by federal law) applies, notwithstanding the purported involvement of MR-GO in causing the flood," corps attorneys wrote.

Finally, the corps lawyers insist, the agency only carries out the directives of Congress in building projects, the MR-GO included.

The plaintiffs' side isn't due to file its formal response to the corps' pleading until next month.
But one member of the plaintiff team, attorney Joe Bruno of New Orleans, took issue with the corps' brief on several fronts.

"We're not complaining about the (MR-GO) levees," he said. "So who cares if there are levees surrounding an otherwise defective navigable waterway?'

Bruno said that just because Congress authorizes a project "doesn't mean you get to build the thing incorrectly." He pointed to a court ruling that held a government negligent for failing to turn on the light in a lighthouse whose construction it authorized.
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Thursday, July 13, 2006

A New Generation

I have an unfinished, stream of consciousness post in the draft stage. It's way too complicated for me today.

I've been offline a lot lately as my daughter and my six year old grandson moved in with us about a month ago. I am finding that I am totally out of practice with keeping up with a six year old, but it's coming back. Kinda like riding a bike, you can still do it, you remember how, but your muscles hurt more than they used to.

My daughter felt that moving here would be a good move as there would be job possibilities and expansion over the next ten years that couldn't be found anywhere else. I agree with her, but we very much struggled with encouraging her to move here. It's a hard place to be right now.

My grandson just plain loves it here.

We have built a pirate ship out of two lawn chairs, a stool, a couple of sticks for cannons, and a $2.50 shovel that he is defoliating a section of the backyard with looking for treasure. We also have a real pirate flag hanging out there, which had been part of my office decor for many years but had been put in storage when we moved to New Orleans. It was one of the few things from storage that survived Katrina. My grandson is terribly impressed by that--not just that I happen to have a pirate flag, but that it survived Katrina (which he pronounces "Kantrina.") The simple joy of hollering, "Go swab that deck you scurvy dog!" with my grandson, the Captain, shouting, "Yeah, you buckos, the Black Navy is coming for us!" makes me forget other things for a little while.

He has decided that all the old style plastic Mardi Gras beads are "World Record Beads." I'm talking about the ones that have the little connectors on them, so you can link them together. He's been linking them together for years and they are some of his favorites. He wants to link them all the way around Jackson Square and get into the Guinness Book of World Records. Cool goal, so we've been busy counting beads and finding out what Guinness requires. Today we had to go measure Jackson Square in order to estimate how many of these beads we'll need.

It took us nearly forty minutes to make it from Burgundy and Esplanade to the French Market. He was fascinated by the whole worlds he found in sidewalk plantings: giant soft leaves of pink and green, a tiny chameleon no longer than an inch peeking over a vine leaf looking at him, the myriad colors of flowers all the way down Esplanade. We had to stop to smell each one. It was wonderful.

We went past the Mint and he found a doubloon from 1975, a red one, Krewe of Gladiators, he had to have it. He found a break in the fence where they're repairing it and grabbed it, delighted by his treasure and asked me if anyone I knew was alive in 1975. He then nodded knowingly and said, "This survived Kantrina. It's special."

Once at the French Market, naturally the battery powered weasel on the ball fascinated him. And all the silver stuff overwhelmed him. Then we got to a booth that I happen to frequent, one with some of the best hard to find blues CD's around. They also have harmonicas there and the guy manning the booth is named Smoky Greenwell. Great harp player and former member of War. He sees my grandson's interest in the music, then whips out his harp and starts playing a great break to "Spoonful." My grandson was mesmerized. We left the booth with a brand new Hohner BluesBand Harmonica for five bucks.

We walked down to get a lemonade, then sat on the steps facing the back side of the Decatur Street shops. He noticed the giant blowup Batman, then asked for his harmonica. And he started playing. Not just tooting around, but really working at it, figuring out how it worked, suck air through-blow air through, high note, low note, did a scale. I asked him if he'd ever had one before. He said no, and set about playing little tunes of his own creation. I told him that all the big time harmonica blues guys had nicknames. He decided his would be Decatur Street Will. I am to play tambourine in his band. I told him that when he got famous, he needed to remember that his first harmonica had come from a New Orleans musician at the French Market. He solemnly told me he would. We lazed around those steps for nearly an hour while he drank his lemonade and played ("Hey, this lemonade makes me play better!")

Finally we made our way to Jackson Square. There we used a 100' tape measure to measure the sides. We learned that it's not square, but slightly rectangular, with the St. Peter/St. Ann sides being about 330 ft, and the Decatur/Chartres sides being about 350. (Our measurements were anything but precise since there were dumpsters or drink carts in the way on some sides, and my grandson can't walk in a straight line when there's a silver guy with a cowboy hat on whistling or an artist that can make planets look real using nothing but spray paint!) It took us an hour and a half to measure the Square as the tourists asked what he was doing or where Pat O'Brien's was. He explained to them what he was doing, very seriously. They looked at us both like we were very, very strange. It seemed quite normal to him.

He's the next generation and he filled my heart with joy and love for his quirkiness and that of the City I love.

"Don't worry," he says. "Kantrina didn't break everything. Lots of things survived."

Some days it's hard to remember that, but measuring Jackson Square with an eye toward circling it with a continuous strand of Mardi Gras beads with a six year old and the bell ringing out over the buggy drivers pitching rides next to a silver cowboy will remind you.