Options few for displaced residents  

Now living three months as an evacuee as a result of the sinkhole emergency in the swamps of northern Assumption Parish, Carl Dugas said he is running out of patience but knows he won’t be returning to his home of almost 30 years.

Dugas’ attitude represents a marked shift from where his feelings were on Aug. 3, a few hours before Assumption Parish President Martin “Marty” Triche, speaking from the tailgate of his pickup truck, called for the evacuation of 150 homes in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou areas.

Scientists believe a Texas Brine Co. salt cavern had a breach in its lower wall that allowed in crude oil, natural gas and 3.3 million cubic yards of sediment and thereby caused the sinkhole.

The cavern is located inside but near the western edge of the Napoleonville Dome, a 1-by-3-mile salt deposit that has been used for years for brine mining, hydrocarbon storage, and oil and gas exploration on its perimeter.

In an interview Aug. 3, as Dugas and his wife, Mona, prepared to go to a wedding, Carl Dugas had said he was willing to stay in his two-story house on Sauce Piquante Lane, despite the discovery of the sinkhole earlier the same morning.

Mona, 58, said she was ready to go and not come back, but Carl, naturally reticent and easygoing, said he was considering staying in the house.

Carl Dugas said Friday he’s had enough.

“I’m a pretty patient person, but it’s come to an end for me,” Dugas said.

Dugas said he feels as though the two houses he owns in the Bayou Corne area have been taken from him with no way to recoup his losses.

He said he has resisted joining some of the lawsuits already filed over the sinkhole and the damaged Texas Brine Co. cavern believed to have caused it, but feels he has no other option because he does not feel comfortable moving back.

“You know what? I feel like somebody’s robbed me. You know and I ... and I can’t do nothing about it. You know, like they just stole, you know, everything I own,” he said. “And I want them punished for it, you know. That’s how I feel.”

Dugas said he does not believe the salt cavern can be repaired or brought to a point that will make him and his wife feel safe in the place he built with his father and where he planned to retire.

The Dugases are living with friends in Vacherie, but said they know they will eventually have to find a way to make a new home somewhere else.

Dugas said they want to be bought out.

As the state, parish and company officials continue to grapple with the aftermath of the sinkhole and cavern failure, the realization for many residents is setting in that this is a long-term event.

The evacuation hit the three-month mark Saturday, and though officials recently got natural gas to start venting from under the area — a side consequence of the sinkhole’s formation — it is uncertain when the evacuation might end and normalcy would return to the bayou community.

Looming over their lives, as they shuttle between two homes, are the questions of what their houses in Bayou Corne may be worth and whether that value will ever recover.

Shane Guillot, associate broker with Guillot Realty in Donaldsonville, said for the time being, the land the evacuees own is basically worthless.

“As of today, right now, that land is absolutely worthless back there and the reason being, if they find somebody that was brave enough to buy with all these unreal issues back there, the mortgage companies aren’t going to make a loan back there,” Guillot said.

He said he is aware of two different mortgage companies that will not make loans in the area.

Guillot added it is hard to say how the value might recover if officials get the situation under control because there are so many “X factors” and questions that, he says, remain unanswered.

Assumption Parish Assessor Wayne “Cat” Blanchard said that in September, as he was finishing the 2012 reassessment, he sent Bayou Corne residents letters offering to hold their assessed value as it was, give them a one-year cut of 50 percent or increase the value if they did improvements.

Blanchard’s reassessment would normally require his office to base values on sales going back two years, long before the sinkhole opened up in the swamps.

Blanchard said about 85 percent of the residents responded to his letter or follow-up phone calls and about 60 percent those who responded took the one-year cut in assessed value.

He said his office will reassess values next year.

Blanchard said it is really hard to know at this point what the value of property in Bayou Corne might be because there have not been any sales, adding the 50 percent figure was pulled out of the air in an effort to help residents at this time.

“To be honest with you, we don’t know what the value is,” Blanchard said.

“We probably are not going to know that for a few years until people are going to try to sell.”