Bayou Corne buyout inspections under way 

Harley Brown’s fishing buddy James Gremillion waited on the back deck of Brown’s camp for the next sac au lait to strike late Tuesday morning while Brown stood inside with the damage adjuster.

The Worley Catastrophe Response adjuster was looking for cracks and other defects that might have resulted from tremors and other disturbances tied to the growing sinkhole just down La. 70 South from Brown’s camp on Bayou Corne.

Similar visits to other homes began last week. They are the early stages of buyout talks Texas Brine Co. plans with Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou residents under a nearly 8-month-old evacuation order due to the more than 13-acre swampland sinkhole, company officials said.

Texas Brine officials, under pressure to act, agreed to offer buyouts after meeting with Gov. Bobby Jindal last month.

In earlier years, the comfortable April day would have been a good one for Brown and Gremillion to spend on the water at Brown’s camp. The longtime friends from the Baton Rouge area say they used to spend several days a week in Bayou Corne, but that changed with the discovery of the sinkhole Aug. 3.

Brown said he is going through the appraisal process to see where he stands but doesn’t know how Texas Brine can pay him to buy another home on the water.

“I don’t want to sell, but I would, if we can come to an agreement,” Brown, 78, said.

The adjuster’s inspection for physical damage is the first of two in-home visits Texas Brine contractors are expected to make on Brown’s bayou camp. An appraisal visit follows the damage inspection.

Right of Way Services Inc., a subsidiary of Core Group of Crowley, is doing the appraisals, Sonny Cranch, Texas Brine spokesman, said.

Some residents have filed lawsuits against Texas Brine. The Houston-based company is starting buyout talks with those who do not have attorneys, like Brown. Eighty-seven have signed up, and 66 damage inspections were finished as of Tuesday, Cranch said, although no appraisals have been completed.

Settlement offers are expected within 45 days after appraisals are finished, company officials said.

Scientists think the failure of a Texas Brine cavern caused the sinkhole, periodic tremors and venting methane gas bubbles.

A special panel has been appointed to determine when residents can return to Bayou Corne. The commission’s first meeting is from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday at the LSU Energy, Coast and Environment Building in the Dalton J. Woods Auditorium, state Office of Conservation officials said in a statement Tuesday.

During the open meeting, panel members will not field questions but the public can submit them for consideration.

A few residents have objected to a preliminary Worley questionnaire asking homeowners to provide a variety of mortgage and property documents; to list damages and other claims; and to state what they think their claims are worth.

Johnny Mabile, 68, said he thinks Texas Brine contractors can find the public documents on their own. Mabile said he refused to fill out the claims questions. Texas Brine does not need that information to do the appraisal he has authorized, he said.

“I think what they’re doing is fishing,” he said.

Cranch said most residents have not objected to the questionnaires.

Residents in Bayou Corne have been divided about whether to stay, if possible, or be bought out and leave. This difference is showing up in how some approach buyouts.

Dennis Landry owns a Bayou Corne boat launch and cabins that governmental agencies have used in responding to the sinkhole. Mid-Tuesday morning, Worley inspector Patrick Levy checked Landry’s cabins and launch.

Landry said he did not think his cabins had been physically damaged and is not inclined to leave. But he said he thinks his business will lose value even after the sinkhole settles down and the bubbles in area bayous stop venting methane. He said he wants the appraisal as he negotiates over the diminished value of his properties.

“The stigma question is going to be significant for a long time,” Landry said.