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Army Corps ruled not liable for ‘flawed’ levees in Katrina

NEW ORLEANS — The Army Corps of Engineers built a ‘‘tragically flawed’’ levee system for New Orleans — but is not liable for claims that excavation work by a government contractor weakened a floodwall and caused it to breach in two places during Hurricane Katrina, a federal judge has ruled.

US District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. said he cannot hold the corps or its contractor, Washington Group International Inc., responsible for the 2005 failure of a floodwall meant to protect the city’s Lower 9th Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish.

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Duval said the floodwall was a ‘‘disaster waiting to happen’’ due to several ‘‘anomalies,’’ including a structural defect. But he ruled that plaintiffs’ attorneys failed to prove the breaches were caused by ‘‘uplift pressures’’ created by WGI’s work.

‘‘The court cannot and will not find as a certainty what exactly caused these breaches,’’ he wrote in the ruling, issued Friday.

Duval held a trial without a jury last year for homeowners’ claims against the corps and WGI. The corps argued it was entitled to immunity from the plaintiffs’ claims, blaming the damage on deficiencies in the original design and construction of the floodwall.

For nearly eight years, Duval has presided over a raft of litigation spawned by levee and floodwall failures.

‘‘One central theme has been painfully obvious throughout this entire process; many of the levees protecting New Orleans and the surrounding area were tragically flawed,’’ Duval wrote.

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