Continuing our efforts to save the historic Mid-City neighborhood from needless demolition - 67 acres of homes and businesses in Mid-City are slated to be demolished to make room for sprawling new hospital campuses for the Department of Veterans Affairs and Louisiana State University - the National Trust for Historic Preservation today filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs and FEMA (FEMA is funding part of LSU’s hospital, and therefore has a responsibility to evaluate the impacts of the project on the community in which it is located).
The lawsuit claims that during the environmental review process, VA and FEMA failed to fully evaluate the devastating effects that their plan would inflict on historic properties - factors they must consider under federal law. Despite the fact that the new hospitals would mean razing hundreds of homes and businesses and wiping a historic neighborhood off the map, the federal agencies determined that the damage to the neighborhood would be “insignificant.”
Obviously, we disagree. Many homeowners in Mid-City have painstakingly restored their homes since Katrina’s flooding devastated their neighborhood. By returning to the city after the storm, pouring thousands of dollars and untold hours of sweat-equity into fixing their homes and rebuilding their community, these homeowners have done exactly what was asked of them. To then turn around and deem it “insignificant” that their neighborhood will be demolished is just plain wrong.
Rather than delaying the return of medical care to veterans and the people of New Orleans, the intention of the lawsuit is to have the opposite effect: by encouraging the agencies to revisit their site-location decisions, the agencies could choose sites that would not only avoid delays, but allow the hospitals to open sooner than under current plans.
Betsy Merritt is deputy general counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where she has been responsible for the National Trust's legal advocacy program for the past 25 years.