Sinkhole grows and threatens Bayou Corne


Last weekend Bonny Schumaker from On Wings of Care — a tireless advocate who’s been our not-so-secret weapon in the war for salvation of the ecology of the Gulf Coast — went up in the skies over Bayou Corne, the small Louisiana town that’s been ravaged by a sinkhole caused by a collapsing sinkhole, an epic tale of neglect. The latest news from there is not good.

The sinkhole, which was already more than large enough to hold the entire Louisiana Superdome, has grown dramatically in recent days — threatening a berm that is the last line on defense against a surge of brackish, polluted water that could destroy not only the sensitive nearby swamps but also what’s left of the town.

Here’s an excerpt from Bonny’s trip report:

Weaving our way through clouds and some feisty winds, we made a quick trip over to the Bayou Corne sinkhole again today. We were eager to see it, since learning a few days ago that the berm (built since the sinkhole started expanding significantly last August) on the west and south side of the sinkhole had collapsed.  Indeed, as our video and photos from today attest, whatever false sense of security that berm provided is now gone forever. And with it, the residents’ last remaining hope that the sinkhole could be contained and they might be able to move back into their homes and their lovely way of life.

Check out Bonny’s shot of what the sinkhole looked like last August, when the situation was first developing:

Now look at her shot from Saturday, and how much the sinkhole has expanded:

As a result of the berm collapse, crews have been working furiously to save Bayou Corne:

Sonny Cranch, spokesman for Houston-based Texas Brine, said contractors planned to work as late as possible Thursday night on the levee encircling the sinkhole between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.

A 400- to 500-foot section of the levee sank as much as 3.9 feet under water overnight Monday after an active period of tremors near the sinkhole.

“We’re still packing in sand. They’ll work late tonight and keep working as long as they can, and if they don’t finish late tonight, they’ll finish tomorrow morning,” Cranch said early Thursday evening.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the last couple of months, we’ve seen Gov. Jindal and state lawmakers take a more active role, enacting legislation for future safety of salt dome projects like what took place under Bayou Corne, and prodding Texas Brine to reach a fair settlement with homeowners who may never return to their battered bayou community. But many of those homeowners are not getting satisfaction from a process that is too little and too late, and they are going to court:

About 70 individual property owners or residents are plaintiffs in the five suits, as well as a few businesses and limited liability companies.

All five suits name Texas Brine and Occidental Chemical Corp., a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp., as defendants.

The suits claim the companies and other defendants share in negligence over the sinkhole and similarly recount allegations raised in earlier suits about indications in 2010 that the cavern may have been in jeopardy.

All of us who’ve been watching this situation closely had hoped for a more satisfying ending. But both the company and state regulators who knew of problems at the salt cavern at least three years ago, if not longer, moved way too slowly for that. The pictures do not lie. This catastrophe is swallowing Bayou Corne alive.

To find out more about Bonny Schumaker’s recent flyover of Bayou Corne and to see more pictures and watch a video, please check out:

To read more about the berm reconstruction and the mounting number of lawsuits against Texas Brine, please read:

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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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