Justice coming too slowly for beleaguered sinkhole residents


It’s hard to believe, but with summer upon us we’re also getting closer to the one-year anniversary of the sinkhole fiasco in Bayou Corne. That means that roughly 350 residents of this bayou community 70 miles west of New Orleans have spent months now out of their homes in a forced evacuation, fleeing the smell of methane, an ever-widening hole in the earth that could now accommodate the Louisiana Superdome, and underground tremors that have cracked foundations. All this because the owner of the underground salt dome, Texas Brine Co., and state regulators ignored months of warnings that the dome was structurally unsafe.

I haven’t written about the sinkhole crisis for a couple of weeks because it looked like there was finally progress toward a solution, albeit an imperfect one, in which Texas Brine would agree to a buyout of the homes that have been rendered all but uninhabitable. Some of this progress came about because Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who’d spent months trying to pretend that this crisis in his own backyard did not exist, and state lawmakers were finally applying some political pressure on the out-of-state company. But not only has that pressure come too late, but it may have been too little as well. The buyouts have not been happening, and — as has been the case throughout this crisis — Texas Brine is trying to blame someone else:

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday ordered the state’s conservation commissioner to review all permits issued to Texas Brine Co., the operator of a collapsed salt dome in Assumption Parish that authorities say caused a 15-acre sinkhole and an ongoing evacuation order for 350 people.

Jindal traveled to Bayou Corne to announce the executive order, saying the company has been slow to respond to residents seeking buyouts or other settlements. He said company officials have missed several deadlines in which they promised action.

Texas Brine is blaming the insurance company:

In a letter addressed to Bayou Corne residents, a company official apologized for settlement delays, saying they were prepared to make offers 10 days ago, but that their insurance carriers have not approved the action.

“Because we have not received their final approval, we are, at this time, unable to make offers within the timeframe initially indicated,” wrote Bruce Martin, vice president for operations.

It’s not at all surprising that the beleaguered residents of Bayou Corne have turned to the only place where it seems possible to get justice in a political world that remains dominated by Big Oil and Big Gas, and that is inside a court of law:

A federal judge in New Orleans says he will grant class-action status to four lawsuits filed over issues raised by the Assumption Parish sinkhole, according to a new court filing Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey also will give Texas Brine Co. 30 more days to directly negotiate stalled out-of-court settlements with evacuated residents lacking legal representation.

It should never have come this far — and yet it always does, doesn’t it? The elected officials and the state regulators who are supposed to be the people’s first line of defense against environmental abuses failed, as they so routinely do here in Louisiana. You almost have to admire the sheer nerve of Gov. Jindal to show up 10 months late, to express some faux outrage. But hopefully, the people’s lawyers and a civil action will finally shake things up. The poor citizens of Bayou Corne deserve justice — and the wheels are turning way too slowly.

To learn more about the delays in settlements from Texas Brine Co., please read: http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/e80628a2975447faa552cc1724863761/LA–Louisiana-Sinkhole

For news about the class-action lawsuit against Texas Brine Co., check out: http://theadvocate.com/news/6050412-123/judge-greenlights-class-action-status-for

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved


  • It seems that no one, not attorneys nor judges, at this time can give us residents a clue to what the real prescription date is so that we may go ahead and file a lawsuit to protect our legal rights before we step over that imaginary prescription date line. Some of us residents of Bayou Corne have yet to file a lawsuit, but it seems that the first possible subscription date is May 30, 2013 and we have our backs to the wall on his one and all this caused by the lack of any action relative to the residents of Bayou Corne. We have no alternative now but to file a lawsuit against Texas Brine and some of us are, as I write this comment are in the process of doing just that. This last minute action by Texas Brine is a ploy by their attorneys to put the residents in a delima as to how to handle this, so for some of us, the best way to handle it is to file a lawsuit. What they say,the only ones that will come out of this with money are the attorneys that are hired by both sides. It is a shame.

  • You make a powerful statement “It should never have come this far — and yet it always does, doesn’t it? The elected officials and the state regulators who are supposed to be the people’s first line of defense against environmental abuses failed, as they so routinely do here in Louisiana.” We see the same thing in Florida and as a Sinkhole Investment company we see what happens when the local government drags it’s feet. We hope the residents in Bayou Corne make out better now that you spotlight the problem!!

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

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