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Victims of Katrina and Rita get letter from Corps denying claims

katrinaNEW ORLEANS — In a postscript to ill-fated damage claims made against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Corps has sent out about 565,000 letters formally notifying victims of those storms that their claims have been denied.

The Corps released a copy of the one-page letter yesterday. It is signed by chief counsel Earl Stockdale. He describes it as “the final administrative action” in claims against the Corps regarding Katrina- or Rita-related injuries, deaths or property damage blamed on faulty levees or badly maintained navigation channels.

Various court rulings have held that the Corps is immune from such claims. Key rulings dealt with lawsuits over the design and construction of federal levees and the Corps’ maintenance of the now-closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

In one major ruling in 2008, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval said he was forced by law to hold the Corps immune even though the agency “squandered millions of dollars in building a levee system … which was known to be inadequate by the Corps’ own calculations.”

In another Katrina-related case, Duval ruled that the federal government wasn’t immune from lawsuits blaming flood damage on the Corps’ operation and maintenance of the Gulf Outlet. But that ruling was later overturned by a federal appeals court, and the Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

The last major ruling, Duval’s formal dismissal of tens of thousands of claims, came in December of last year, clearing the way for the letters that the Corps began mailing about two weeks ago.

“Once the litigation was resolved, the Corps was able to take our final actions regarding the claims decision, including the process for closing each claim,” Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said in an email.


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