Monday, May 5, 2008

Responsibility in Government - the Katrina Chronicles

A federal judge ruled today that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can be sued by New Orleans residents over the Katrina - related damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). The Judge, already exhasperated by the Corps attempts to deflect the discussion away from things it could control, told the plaintiffs and the Government that, since MRGO is a ship canal, the Corps doesn't have legal immunity as it might if MRGO was part of the New Orleans based flood works.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, you need to know two things: I grew up in Baton Rouge, and so I know MRGO better then many. I also spent 3 1/2 years working for the Corps in Seattle, where I was glad to be in a place where Corps folks actually care about the environment. I also worked in the Gulf after Katrina, doing Blue Roof temporary roofing inspection for the Corps.

That said, Katrina remains a real tragedy. The initial rush of running to the aid of so many that infected our nation after the storm has given way to the long, slow recovery taht too many Maericans refuse to admit is still going on. I've never been happy iwth the Katrina response, and one of these days I'll write about it here.

But I think the Corps is getting a bum deal in this instance. Like it or not, the Corps built MRGO becasue Congress decided 40 years ago that MRGO was a good idea. Likewise, the levee system was built to the . . . . challenging level it was because COngress decided the Corps didn't any more money and therefore couldn't build it to the level even Corps engineers thought it should be. So when it comes to damage to New Orleans being caused by Corps actions, someone needs to sue Congress as well. Of course, if we did sue Congress, or even if we turned them out of office for their failures, then we'd actually be doing what the founding fathers wanted us to do in our democracy. But that would mean we were holding ourselves accountable for the actions of our government. Instead, we sue the Corps, who are almost always between a rock and a hard place not of their own making.

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