November 24, 2009
Dallas News

A federal court ruling taking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to task for its work on the levees in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina reveals some parallels and some differences with the situation in Dallas.


Trees: The corps was criticized after Katrina for having permitted trees to grow along the levees. Since then, it has been rigid in insisting no trees be planted along the Trinity River toll road and has required the removal of other trees already planted within the levees.

Soil: The ruling cites evidence that the corps knew for decades that the presence of permeable soil meant that New Orleans' flood risk would increase over time. But proper steps to safeguard against that were not taken. In Dallas, concerns about the soil composition beneath the levees have prompted the corps to order that the city spend millions to test whether the levees' soil is too sandy.

Competing interests: The ruling faults the corps for placing too much emphasis on improvements designed to assist commercial shipping interests, allowing safety concerns to go unaddressed. In Dallas, critics have said city officials are too eager to complete its toll road, bridges and other amenities in the face of worries by the corps.


• The flood risk in New Orleans, situated below sea level within reach of the Gulf of Mexico, is obviously much different than the flood risk in Dallas, where heavy rains could propel the Trinity River over the levees.

• The judge's ruling that the corps must pay damages to Katrina victims hinges on a legal distinction that is unlikely to be relevant in Dallas. That means that even if the corps were to be blamed for a future flooding catastrophe, it is highly unlikely it would be held legally liable.

• In New Orleans, Hurricane Betsy devastated parts of the city as recently as 1965, after major components of the current flood protection system had been completed. Dallas' worst flood occurred in 1908, before the levees here were constructed.
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