A long-running legal battle over the right of property owners along the Orleans Parish side of the 17th Street Canal to be compensated for property taken as part of the work to strengthen the floodwall behind their homes appears to be at an end after the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East approved a settlement in the case.
The suit brought by 11 homeowners on Bellaire Drive was hardly the largest or most wide-ranging case to emerge from the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina or the post-flood improvements made to the area’s storm protection system. But it involved perhaps the most persistent group of plaintiffs, who have become regular fixtures at Flood Protection Authority board meetings.
That board voted unanimously Thursday to settle with the six homeowners who were still pressing claims stemming from policies that restricted the use of portions of their backyards and required them to allow access to workers rebuilding and maintaining the levees.
Two of the homeowners originally involved in the suit dropped their cases and three others settled their claims through mediation, said Nyka Scott, an attorney for the Flood Protection Authority.
Both sides said they could not discuss details of the settlement because the paperwork had not yet been finalized.
“I know the plaintiffs in the suit are happy, and it was a satisfactory settlement. Of course, we wouldn’t have settled otherwise,” said Roy Arrigo, one of the homeowners. “I very much feel it is a win-win for the homeowners and the levee board.”
The suit was brought when, following Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required homeowners to allow contractors into yards that backed up to the canal’s levee and floodwall, portions of which failed during the storm.
The repairs and upgrades required structures, fences, pools and trees near the levee to be taken down, and policies and state law later established a 6-foot zone that had to be kept free of any impediments that engineers said could weaken the levee.
The homeowners sued, arguing they should be compensated for the loss of the use of their property.
The issue has been moving through various courts since the suit was filed in 2008. At the same time, changes to the law have expanded the buffer zone to 15 feet.
The Flood Protection Authority board earlier endorsed a bill by state Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-Metairie, that would shrink the buffer back to 6 feet, provided that did not conflict with federal laws or regulations.
Both sides said the board’s support for that change was not part of the settlement.
The state House has passed Lorusso’s bill and it is headed to the Senate floor.
Homeowners involved in the suit have been vocal and persistent critics of the Flood Protection Authority throughout the process, with representatives in attendance at nearly all of the board’s meetings to press their case.
“We’re looking to move past this debacle and get on with our lives,” Arrigo said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.