Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:31 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Officials say LSU and a state agency paid former coastal researcher Ivor van Heerden $435,000 to settle court claims that his LSU career was destroyed because he alleged engineering mistakes allowed New Orleans to flood during Hurricane Katrina.
Michael DiResto, assistant commissioner for policy and communications in the Louisiana Division of Administration, told The Advocate the payment amount was provided by the Office of Risk Management.
In his three-year-old lawsuit in Baton Rouge federal court, van Heerden alleged that some university officials systematically ended his ability to perform hurricane research and eventually refused to renew his contract because they feared he would cost the school federal funds.
The expert in geology and marine science publicly alleged in 2005 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers caused New Orleans to flood during Katrina's assault by designing and building levees that were "way too shallow."
That lack of depth, van Heerden said, caused the structures to buckle and sag, permitting the storm surge to drown hundreds of New Orleans-area residents.
LSU System President and Interim Chancellor William Jenkins issued a written statement in which he declined to comment on van Heerden's allegations.
"While LSU believed its position in the litigation was sound, negotiations for a compromise settlement require both parties to evaluate a number of factors, including conflicting factual evidence," Jenkins said in his statement. He said those factors also include "uncertainty as to how a jury would interpret the evidence, impact of court rulings and . uncertainty about the ultimate jury verdict, as well as cost of proceeding with litigation."
Van Heerden and his attorney, Jill L. Craft, also declined to discuss the amount of his settlement check.
"It was a good win," van Heerden said. "I think we achieved what we wanted: LSU knows it cannot deny academic freedom and get away with it."
The coastal researcher said, "This wasn't about the money. It was really about academic freedom."