Okay, now it's official, or as official, at least, as the considered ruling of a Federal district judge can make it. The United States Army Corps of Engineers has been found by Judge Stanwood Duval liable for the damages inflicted on at least three plaintiffs by its failure to mitigate the damage its construction and operation of the MR-GO channel caused to the wetlands and, ultimately to the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish on August 29, 2005.
One of the plaintiffs' co-lead attorneys, Pierce O'Donnell of Los Angeles voiced the hope for change:
"We're hoping the new administration and the new Congress will view this decision in a new light," O'Donnell said. "This decision should act as a catalyst to finally work out a settlement for all the people of New Orleans."
So far, unfortunately, the Administration is sending unhopeful signs of non-change. They're reviewing the decision, apparently leaning toward appeal. But the last word, so far, belongs to Judge Duval...
Duval dismissed Justice Department lawyers' arguments that the corps' decisions were discretionary policy judgements of their professional staff and thus protected under federal law.
"Ignoring safety and poor engineering are not policy, and clearly the Corps engaged in such activities," he said.
UPDATE (THURSDAY A.M.): Mainstream media, deep in Palin and health-bill mode, largely ignore this ruling. Maddow (who at least covered it): ruling "suggests that Hurricane Katrina was in part a man-made disaster". The ruling didn't suggest Corps culpability; it declared it. As for "in part", that's an interesting phrase, because federal law didn't allow the judge to consider the Corps' culpability (admitted, nine months later, by the Corps' own commander) for the failures along the flood-control structures. As for npr, Robert Siegel last night said "I know the people in New Orleans don't regard the damage inflicted by Katrina as an act of God so much as an act of Government negligence...what's their argument?" Nice in-depth work, Robert. Their "argument" might more properly be called the findings of two exhaustive, independent forensic engineering investigations of the disaster. The co-author of one of those reports called what happened to New Orleans "the greatest man-made engineering disaster since Chernobyl". Google is your friend, npr.