Deadline for sinkhole buyout talks extended to July 31

Nearly half of the eligible residents and families in an evacuation area affected by a sinkhole induced by a Texas Brine Co. salt dome failure last summer have agreed to company buyout offers, while the rest have more than a month to complete negotiations.

Texas Brine faced a 5:30 p.m. court-imposed deadline Monday to reach out-of-court settlements with residents who had not filed suit against the company, but U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey extended that deadline on Tuesday until July 31, Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch said.

The company had been negotiating settlement terms with 103 property owners, Branch said. There were legitimate settlement talks with 92 of them, including 44 who accepted buyouts, he added.

“While not every resident chose to participate in the settlement process, Texas Brine has been committed to offering reasonable offers to those residents who decided they wanted to move from the area and voluntarily participated in the settlement process,” Cranch said.

Jarred Breaux was one of the Bayou Corne residents who hasn’t accepted Texas Brine’s settlement offer.

Breaux and his wife, Ginger, bought a small piece of property on Jambalaya Street near Bayou Corne more than a decade ago.

Initially, they moved a small mobile home onto the property before building a house, having two children and starting a life in the small community.

Texas Brine’s sinkhole has threatened to tear apart the way of life the Breaux family has come to love.

“Me and my wife worked for the last 10 years to get where we are,” Jarred Breaux said at his home Tuesday afternoon. “Do you feel like starting over?”

He said Texas Brine’s offer just wasn’t enough for him to pick up his family and leave his home, but he would be interested in extended discussions and participating in mediation with Texas Brine.

“I know we’ve got a big decision (to make) pretty soon,” said Breaux, who doesn’t have an attorney but said he likely will look for one soon.

Cranch said 41 property owners have expressed a desire to continue direct negotiations with Texas Brine despite the deadline’s passing, and they will receive that opportunity as a result of Zainey’s decision to grant the extension.

Approximately 150 residents owned property in the evacuation area.

The remaining almost 50 people were not eligible for these buyouts either because they have sued Texas Brine or they chose not to participate in settlement discussions, Cranch said.

Although 44 agreements were signed by Monday, Cranch said no money has changed hands and residents are looking at another 30 to 45 days before the process is finalized.

In the meantime, those residents will continue to receive $875 weekly housing assistance checks as they have since shortly after the now-22.4-acre sinkhole formed on Aug. 3 in Assumption Parish.

Texas Brine officials said last week they had paid out $5.5 million in assistance checks, an average of more than $40,000 per residence.

Cranch said Tuesday he expects the weekly checks to continue “for the foreseeable future.”

The company will continue to work with residents as they attempt to reach settlements with everyone, Cranch said, as well as allow enough time for residents who do accept buyouts to gather their belongings and move out of the area.

“We are trying to be as reasonable as possible,” Cranch said. “We have tried to be reasonable throughout this entire process, and we’ll continue to be reasonable.”