It’s funny — it was just about this time last year that I was writing multiple blog posts about the remarkable situation in Bayou Corne, the little town tucked inside the swamplands 70 miles west of New Orleans, and wondering why no one else was paying attention. After all, it’s not every day that a small town shakes and rumbles, dangerous methane gas bubbles up from under the ground, and finally the earth opens up, creating a new lake that swallows up trees and grows an acre or two larger every week.
Beyond the shock value and the terrible situation for a couple hundred salt-of-the-earth folks who live there, the complete story of Bayou Corne touches on many of the grand themes of the environmental movement: Corporate greed and neglect, short-sighted management of resources, as well as bureaucratic and even political neglect at the highest levels. That’s why it was surprising to see the story ignored outside of a few local reporters — and also why it was gratifying to wake up today and see the story on the front page of the New York Times as well as its website NYTimes.com, including artwork from our good friends at the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, or LEAN. As you might expect, the piece helps bring a large audience of new readers up to speed:
More than a year after it appeared, the Bayou Corne sinkhole is about 25 acres and still growing, almost as big as 20 football fields, lazily biting off chunks of forest and creeping hungrily toward an earthen berm built to contain its oily waters. It has its own Facebook page and its own groupies, conspiracy theorists who insist the pit is somehow linked to the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles south and the earthquake-prone New Madrid fault 450 miles north. It has confounded geologists who have struggled to explain this scar in the earth.
And it has split this unincorporated hamlet of about 300 people into two camps: the hopeful, like Mr. Landry, who believe that things will eventually settle down, and the despairing, who have mostly fled or plan to, and blame their misery on state and corporate officials.
“Everything they’re doing, they were forced to do,” Mike Schaff, one of those who is leaving, said of the officials. “They’ve taken no initiative. I wanted to stay here. But the community is basically destroyed.”
Drawls Mr. Landry: “I used to have a sign in my yard: ‘This too shall pass.’ This, too, shall pass. We’re not there yet. But I’m a very patient man.”
I hope that the national media, too, will keep patient and stay on the Bayou Corne story, because it’s a long way from over. And there’s another aspect of this situation that carries implications outside of the bayou. As we’ve reported here on multiple occasions, it was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s regulators, in Louisiana’s Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Environmental Quality (DEQ), who ignored both an explicit warning of potential problems at the site and then earth tremors, methane odors, and other signs of the 2012 collapse. And Jindal himself compounded these errors when he tried to ignore the situation for nearly a year, neglecting to visit a site practically in the backyard of his office in Baton Rouge. Now, Jindal continues to put himself out there as a possible candidate for higher office, maybe even a presidential contender in 2016. But if the mess in Bayou Corne is emblematic of Jindal’s leadership style — and it is — America would be better off if he just stays home.
To read the New York Times coverage of the mess in Bayou Corne in its entirety, please go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/26/us/ground-gives-way-and-a-louisiana-town-struggles-to-find-its-footing.html?hp
You can read my past coverage of the Louisiana sinkhole at: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/category/featured-news/louisiana-sinkhole/
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