Opponents of Katrina money diversion to port vow to press on

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Plaintiffs in a Katrina-related lawsuit say they believe the federal judge who threw out the case made the wrong decision. The Mississippi NAACP, the Mississippi Center for Justice, and others filed a suit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At issue was the diversion of $570 million in Katrina housing money to expand Port of Gulfport.

On Friday, a judge dismissed the case because he said the plaintiffs were not personally affected.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson said "The plaintiffs have not alleged or offered to show that HUD's diversion of excess funds to the port expansion project has injured or would injure them."

Despite the setback, opponents of to the diversion plan are vowing to press on.

Mississippi Center for Justice senior attorney Reilly Morse is extremely disappointed. He said in a statement, "We believe that the Judge failed to recognize the legally proper personal stake these plaintiffs -- individuals whose homes are still in shambles and organizations who stand up for those individuals -- have in the proper oversight of post-Katrina relief money appropriated by Congress."

Morse said the plaintiffs are considering their options and may appeal or take other action in federal district court."

Plaintiff attorney Laurence Schoen said the money was supposed to be for disaster relief and not for an expansion that was already in the planning before Hurricane Katrina. He said the Port of Gulfport will be at a stage where it can use the money for years. Meanwhile, he said a pool of money will just be sitting there instead of helping people sitting in damaged homes with immediate needs."

Schoen said,"The court's decision doesn't speak to the merits of the lawsuit. We believe the court errored in its findings and these plaintiffs do have a personal stake in the lawsuit."

He said his clients are hopeful HUD leaders in the new White House administration will take another look at the decisions made under leadership and change course.

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