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Jan 11, 2011 8:43 PM by Alison Haynes

Suit seeks to halt New Orleans levee work

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A lawsuit is threatening to slow down or even halt work to strengthen a canal that broke catastrophically during Hurricane Katrina.
Homeowners with backyards along the 17th Street Canal filed a civil suit in state court on Jan. 5 to stop the work because they claim that they own the land where the work will take place and they have not been compensated for damage to their properties.
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to begin work soon to strengthen the floodwall and levee along the 17th Street Canal. The canal broke during Katrina and contributed to the massive flooding of New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005.
In the suit, seven families claim work crews would be trespassing. The suit stems from a dispute over whether backyards along the canal are part of the state's right of way or private land. The suit was filed against the Orleans Levee District and the Southeastern Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.
In 2008, homeowners sought compensation for the loss of trees, fences and outbuildings close to the 17th Street Canal levee that crews removed to make the canal's levee and floodwalls safer.
A state district judge ruled in their favor, but their compensation claims were overturned in 2009 by the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
The new suit brings up the same issues but seeks to stop a new round of work.
The corps wants to strengthen the canal by pouring cement deep into the ground to build a subsurface wall. Plans also call for building a new embankment wall along the canal.
"One of our founding principles is no taking of private property without just compensation," said Randy Smith, a lawyer for the homeowners.
"No one is against hurricane protection," he said. "Our point is, you can take land, but the way you take land is you pay for it."
Thomas Anzelmo Sr., a lawyer for the levee agencies, said the appellate court was "pretty clear" in its ruling that the state has a right of way along waterways like the 17th Street Canal. He said the state was granting "a right of entry" to the Army Corps, but that the corps was doing the work.
For now, the suit is not expected to delay work along the canal, said Nancy Allen, a corps spokeswoman.
She said the work was slated to be done by June, a deadline the corps has set for upgrading New Orleans' hurricane levee system. Hurricane season starts on June 1.
A hearing before Civil District Judge Kern Reese has been set for Friday.

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