Community meeting set to discuss sinkhole updates
A Bayou Corne community activist is hopeful that representatives from several state and parish agencies will attend a community meeting on Thursday and provide him and others the answers about northern Assumption Parish’s giant sinkhole they so desperately seek.
John Achee Jr., who has served as a spokesman for a group of concerned Bayou Corne residents, said people in the area are eager for an update on the status of the sinkhole, which was discovered on Aug. 3 on property owned by Texas Brine Co. of Houston.
Residents invited officials from Texas Brine and several public officials as well as representatives of various governmental agencies. Achee said he was hopeful that many of those invited will show up at a meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Pierre Part and will be able to provide an update.
“It’s been almost six weeks since the last town hall meetings, which is ridiculous,” Achee said.
Residents have been told that no new information is available and won’t be available until Texas Brine finishes drilling its observation well later this week. The well is being drilled to see if an abandoned Texas Brine cavern could be the cause of the sinkhole.
Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said Tuesday he hadn’t confirmed yet if he would attend Thursday’s meeting, but he said he believes parish officials have done a good job of providing to residents the information they have available.
“I think the parish has been doing a good job disseminating the information they have,” Waguespack said. “The problem is there’s no new significant information until they actually get into the cavern.”
Waguespack said parish officials have maintained a blog online at http://assumptionla.wordpress.com/ and posted two updates Tuesday morning. In addition, he said, residents have been given “unlimited access” to come to the parish’s command center near the sinkhole and ask whatever questions they need answered.
Sonny Cranch, a Texas Brine spokesman, said the company’s primary drilling rig was dismantled and is being replaced by a snubbing unit, which will drill the remaining 900 feet from the well to the cavern. The snubbing unit components were being assembled Tuesday, he said, and drilling is expected to resume Wednesday evening.
The snubbing unit is a “precautionary measure” that allows workers to insert a pipe under the pressure coming up from the well and use the pipe to pump in heavy drilling muds to kill the well, Cranch said.
It may take up to 48 hours to finish drilling the remaining 900 feet, said Cranch, who added that he plans to attend Thursday’s meeting.
The sinkhole, meanwhile, continued to grow slightly on Tuesday. Cranch said a portion of soil “on the western edge of the sinkhole that was a couple of feet wide and roughly 200 feet long” sloughed into the sinkhole along with a tree either late Monday or early Tuesday.
It was the second time in three days that land disappeared into the sinkhole after a section of land 20 feet long by 20 feet wide, along with a tree, fell in on Sunday, Cranch said.
While Cranch said he would attend Thursday’s meeting, it’s not known who else will join him. Achee said his top goal was to get the officials in a room and have them available to take questions.
Among governmental agencies and personnel invited to the meeting are the state’s Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Transportation and Development, Louisiana State Police, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and local, state and federal elected officials.
Lauren Lee, a spokesperson for DOTD, said Secretary Sherri LeBas hadn’t received an invitation via fax or email for the meeting, though she was listed on the memo sent out by residents.
Sgt. Len Marie, a public affairs supervisor for Louisiana State Police, said he was “still trying to work out those details” with Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, before committing to attend the meeting.
GOHSEP spokeswoman Christina Stephens said she had been in close contact with parish officials, who, she said, are planning a public meeting most likely for next week. Stephens added that GOHSEP director Kevin Davis would attend that meeting.
DNR and DEQ officials said they were unsure if anyone from those organizations would be available, while attempts to reach DHH officials, U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia; state Sen. Rick Ward, D-Port Allen; and state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, all of whom were invited, were unsuccessful.
Achee said residents are concerned that some of the signs that existed before the sinkhole formed, such as sharp earth tremors, are back, which he said could mean “the cycle is repeating itself.”
“I’m curious to see who’s going to show up,” Achee said. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t show up. The residents are asking for some answers.”