Bayou sinkhole: “This could go on for years”


After exactly 200 days out of their homes, the beleaguered residents of Bayou Corne finally got a hearing in Baton Rouge this week. They were also told of growing uncertainty about when the crisis in Assumption Parish — where the massive sinkhole created by a collapsing salt cavern continues to grow — will ever be resolved.

Many of them want out. Can you blame them at this point?

On the 200th day of their mandatory evacuation, Assumption Parish residents asked legislators for help Tuesday in persuading Texas Brine Co. LLC to buy homes affected by an 8.6-acre sinkhole.

Bayou Corne homeowner Candy Blanchard said she will never again feel safe in the house she built six years ago.

“Texas Brine has taught me more about purgatory and limbo, and I went to Catholic school, than the nuns could,” Blanchard said.

In response, legislators pressed Texas Brine officials for their position on buyouts. The company said it is in conversations with its insurance carrier.

Nothing that the residents heard at the long-awaited hearing would likely made them feel any better about their plight. A geologist named Gary Hecox told the legislative panel that the salt cavern is still collapsing, and that it will take at least a year to fill in the hole, which is nearly large enough to accomodate the Louisiana Superdome. Many of the residents who heeded the evacuation order did so because of increasing fears over methane that is now being vented from the cavern.

While officials with Texas Brine, the owner of the collapsing cavern, said they have paid $3.5 million in temporary housing costs and will continue to make such payments for the duration of the crisis, a state representative said he believes the homes are now uninhabitable. “We’re at the point where this has become a scientific experiment,” Rep. Joe Harrison of Napoleonville told the hearing. “This could go on for years.”

The one good thing about the hearing was that it was a chance for these poor homeowners to finally air their grievances in a high-profile setting. And some of the stories that they told were heartbreaking:

They talked of children moved from schools and scared of their own houses, retirement dreams upended and families struggling to pay two mortgages while they decide what to do with their future and with their now nearly-worthless property.

 “This has taken too damn long and people need to be bought out. They can’t go back,” said Henry Dupre, an Assumption Parish police juror.

Another added:

“How long is long enough? I, for one, want out … We are not lab rats, and I refuse to be treated that way,” Gary Metrejean, who has lived in the Bayou Corne area for 14 years wrote in a letter read by state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part.

Others said they don’t want to move if they could feel safe to return to their communities. But how and when the area will be stabilized remains unclear.

One positive thing that came out of the meeting was news that Democratic Rep. St. Germain is drafting legislation aimed at prevent this kind of crisis from happening again. Of course, that’s a little too late for the residents of Bayou Corne, but hopefully tougher oversight — something the Jindal administration has failed to provide so far — can help prevent future catastrophes.

Speaking of Gov. Bobby Jindal, the governor continues his embarrassing hiding act on the mattter — failing to attend the hearing or meet with the homeowners, after seven months of ignoring the sinkhole. Instead, his office issued a lame statement that “[w]e receive regular updates on the situation…”

That is simply inadequate — and unacceptable. The people of Bayou Corne deserve much, much better. The people of Bayou Corne deserve justice.

For hearing coverage from the Advocate, please read: 

For coverage of the sinkhole hearing from the Associated Press, please check out:–Louisiana-Sinkhole

 © Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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