- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A judge ruled Thursday that the federal government should foot the bill - tagged at about $3 billion - for fixing damage done to wetlands just outside New Orleans by a shipping channel the Army Corps of Engineers dug in the 1960s.

The ruling Thursday by U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk ordered the federal government to pay the full cost of restoring the wetlands around the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a shipping channel dug through marshlands as a shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans.

The ruling can be appealed. The Army Corps says it’s reviewing the case and declined to comment.

Africk’s ruling comes on the heels of other rulings establishing the Army Corps can be held liable for damage the ill-advised shipping channel caused during Katrina’s flooding.

The corps has been held immune for flooding caused by other structures that failed during Katrina. The legal distinction has centered on the MRGO’s being a navigation channel rather than a flood protection feature. Since the Flood Control Act of 1928, the corps has been held immune from damage caused by flood protection structures, such as levees and floodwalls.

Louisiana’s attorney general, James D. “Buddy” Caldwell, hailed Thursday’s ruling as a victory in the state’s fight with the Army Corps over who should pay to restore the MRGO.

In a statement, Caldwell said the ruling would “protect important state taxpayer dollars.” He added that Africk’s ruling would spur the restoration toward completion.

The spat over payment of the restoration work began when the Army Corps asked the state to share the cost of the work. Costs for Corps projects are routinely split between the federal government and states, but the state argues that Congress made an exception here.

In October 2014, the state sued the Army Corps, challenging its demand the state pay a large share of the restoration, estimated at $1 billion.

The outcome of this fight over costs, though, is unclear. The Army Corps can appeal Africk’s ruling and draw the matter out into a lengthy legal fight.

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