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What Does Judge's Ruling Against Corps in New Orleans Mean For the Trinity Project?

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I am still trying to absorb the 189-page ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood J. Duval yesterday in the Corps of Engineers Katrina lawsuit in New Orleans, but an early read of it produces this clear and overwhelming impression: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just took one big and bad ass-whuppin'.

It's not just the judge's ruling that burns a scarlet letter here. It's the facts and the analysis presented in his order. This is a serious hiding of the Corps that penetrates deep into the culture and character of the agency, with lasting results that will have a major impact on our own Trinity River Corridor Project in Dallas.

In his opinion, Judge Duval doesn't merely say the Corps made serious mistakes. He really says the Corps did the wrong thing on purpose, time and time again, with the disastrous results we all know so well: Katrina.

Here are some quotes from Judge Duval:

"This Court cannot but comment that the Corps' approach reminds the Court of the old adage, 'Close your eyes and you become invisible.'"

He calls actions of the Corps, "beyond arbitrary and capricious -- it flies in the face of the purpose of NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act] ..."

He says the Corps maneuvered, fudged facts and filed phony reports in order to evade requirements of the law that would have forced it to carry out a supplemental environmental impact study, or SEIS, of its flood control and navigation works in New Orleans.

"It is truly beyond cavil that with this report, the Corps acted arbitrarily and capriciously in not filing an SEIS to examine the degradation and problems outlined above."

In another section, the judge says, "A review of the evidence presented leads this Court to believe that the Corps was obdurate and arbitrarily and capriciously violated its NEPA mandate."

He wraps up: "It is the Court's opinion that the negligence of the Corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MRGO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness."

A section that leapt out at me, because of our own issues with the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, was one in which the judge said the Corps had a positive duty not to allow other projects and other goals to reduce the flood-safety protections of its levee system: "... it is manifestly evident that the Corps had a duty not to negligently expose the levee system along Reach II to harm, and it is likewise quite evident that if that levee system were harmed that there was great risk or harm to both people and property."

So where does that leave us in Dallas? Well, on the one hand, we have a mayor who has lied repeatedly about the flood control implications of the Trinity River Toll Road and the Calatrava bridges and who continues to push for the quickest, downest and dirtiest possible solutions. But on the other hand, we are protected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And, look: It may not rain. Much. Again. Also.

So we're O.K. Right?

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