Several sinkhole measures advance

Photo provided by Louisiana State Police -- The northern Assumption Parish sinkhole that emerged near the Napoleonville Dome more than eight months ago is seen from the air March 21. Residents of the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities remain under evacuation orders issued when the sinkhole was discovered on Aug. 3. Show caption
Photo provided by Louisiana State Police -- The northern Assumption Parish sinkhole that emerged near the Napoleonville Dome more than eight months ago is seen from the air March 21. Residents of the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities remain under evacuation orders issued when the sinkhole was discovered on Aug. 3.

Bills filed in response to an Assumption Parish sinkhole began moving through the state Legislature on Wednesday.

The Louisiana House Committee on Natural Resources advanced legislation aimed at preventing future problems and ensuring home buyers realize what lies underneath or near their property.

The proposals move to the full House for consideration.

“The cavern failure has changed the landscape of this once quiet, beautiful retirement community,” state Rep. Karen St. Germain told legislators in reference to the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.

The communities have been under evacuation orders since a swampland sinkhole emerged in early August.

Texas Brine mines caverns into salt domes located at depths of thousands of feet. The brine mixture extracted is piped to petrochemical companies. Scientists believe one of the Houston-based company’s caverns was mined too close to a dome’s outer face, triggering a sidewall collapse that set off tremors, created a sinkhole and released gas and crude oil.

The sinkhole now spans 13 acres.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and others are exerting pressure for Texas Brine to offer buyouts to affected residents. The company also faces lawsuits in state and federal courts.

House Bill 492 would require the state commissioner of conservation to develop rules that, among other things, prevent caverns from being mined near the edge of a salt dome. The rules would force companies to tell the state more immediately about problems.

House Bill 493 would require the owner or operator of a cavern to record the well’s location in parish mortgage and conveyance records. Prospective landowners also would need to be notified if a salt cavity lies underneath or within 2,640 feet of a property.

St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, and state Sen. Rick Ward III, D-Maringouin, sponsored the proposals after Assumption Parish residents voiced concerns at public hearings.

“It does become personal because you start to feel as they feel,” St. Germain told the committee.

Ward said the proposals have far-reaching implications. “This is so important, not only to the people of Bayou Corne but to the state of Louisiana,” he said.

St. Germain said HB493 would make it easier for people to determine whether they live near a salt dome.

State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said the disclosure is necessary. Residents living near the sinkhole have complained that their home values plummeted overnight.

“You work all your life to buy a home, you think you’ve paid it off and then you find out
it’s worth nothing,” Harrison said.

State Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Waggaman, asked how much progress is being made on the Assumption Parish sinkhole.

“I wish I could tell you I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m seeing a flashlight,” St. Germain said.

“(With) a weak battery?” Billiot asked.

“A weak battery,” St. Germain agreed.