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Court tosses Louisiana's suit over widening waterway

Posted: 1:42 PM, Jan 21, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-21 14:42:32-05
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana's lawsuit alleging that a federal canal has expanded well beyond its legal boundaries and is eating away at state land was rejected Tuesday by a federal appeals court.

The 2018 suit claimed the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is 670 feet (200 meters) wide at some points. It was authorized at a width of 125 feet (38 meters) in 1942 and the government negotiated a right-of-way with Vermilion Parish property owners that was 300 feet (90 meters) wide, the lawsuit says.

According to the court record, the waterway is encroaching on the state's White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion.

When the lawsuit was filed, Attorney General Jeff Landry and Congressman Graves said the problem contributes to coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion in south Louisiana.

Tuesday's ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling against the state. The appeals court said the Corps is protected by "sovereign immunity," the legal concept that protects government agencies from lawsuits in many cases. It said the state failed to satisfy requirements to overcome that immunity, rejecting the state's argument that the federal River and Harbor Improvement's Act requires the Corps to maintain the waterway at a certain width.

"Although the River and Harbor Improvements Act authorized a width of 125 feet for construction of the Waterway, no provision of the Act requires the Corps to maintain the Waterway at that width," the opinion written by Judge Eugene Davis said.

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