PIERRE PART — Bayou Corne sinkhole evacuee Harry Boudreaux has been gone from his retirement home for so long, he said, it is beginning to mildew.
“Yeah, I’m frustrated,” Boudreaux said following a Saturday morning community meeting where he and other area residents were briefed at the St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church fellowship hall on the latest sinkhole developments. “I’m not frustrated at the guys who are here. I’m frustrated at the whole situation. The people who live here want to be able to move back home.”
Boudreaux and about 200 other area residents — many of whom were forced to evacuate from their homes Aug. 3 after the roof of Texas Brine Oxy Cavern No. 3 apparently collapsed and caused a still-growing, 4-acre sinkhole to emerge nearby — wanted to know when they could go home.
None of the dozen state and parish officials hosting the meeting could tell them.
“Obviously, this is a lot more complex than I would have ever thought and even the scientists are finding it very complex,” Assumption Parish President Marty Triche told the crowd. “This is a very serious situation because we don’t call mandatory evacuations very lightly.
“But I don’t think you all would want us to end the evacuation just so we can say the evacuation is over. We want to have some level of confidence that people can be safe.”
Preston Guilbeau, who left his home two hours after the evacuation order was issued, said he is concerned the problem is much larger than just this particular sinkhole or the Napoleonville Dome’s apparently damaged salt cavern.
“If this one collapsed, who knows if we won’t have another cavern collapse in the future?” Guilbeau asked. “This cavern is spilt milk. Water under the bridge. It’s the other ones I’m worried about.”
Boudreaux said the entire area around the community is sinking. He told how he used to go crawfishing in the 1960s near the site where the sinkhole now sits, and had to climb a fence near the highway and hike 500 feet through the woods to get to the bayou.
“Now the fence is underwater and water’s right up against the road,” Boudreaux said. “I think the whole dome is sinking.
“All this should have been stopped. They should have been stopped from storing whatever they have in there.”
While officials admitted they can’t allow residents to return home just yet, they are continuing to monitor for air pollution from natural gas escaping from bubbles in area bayous and plan to next week drill some new, shallow wells, called “geo-probes,” to see if natural gas is reaching to the surface from fractured substrata.
Emergency coordinators also plan to have crews begin clearing the fallen trees and brush from the sinkhole early next week so workers can skim a slick of diesel fuel from the surface and soak it up with absorbent booms.
The fuel was put in the deep underground bowling pin-shaped cavern at the time it was taken out of service, officials said, to serve as a barrier between salt brine and fresh water.
The slick’s odor is so powerful it can be smelled from La. 70, a half-mile distance. Some residents claim the diesel vapors are making them ill.
John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security, told the crowd that three air monitors will be added to the five already in place.
He said personnel are continuing daily patrols of Bayou Corne, Grand Bayou and other nearby waterways by boat searching for bubbles.
“We observed some additional bubbles at T’Loc yesterday,” he said.
The Assumption Parish Police Jury’s website confirmed the new finding at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, reporting that “Bubbling site No. 17 has been identified in T’Loc Canal” between Bayou Corne and Pierre Part.
Stephen Chustz, interim secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, said experts are “trying to get to the root cause” of the situation, and the state has contracted with the Shaw Environmental for consulting services.
“Public safety is our No. 1 concern,” Chustz said more than once. “Our focus is getting people back in their homes, making sure the conditions are safe and getting everyone back to a normal state of life.”
Ferrell Brunet, a Shaw spokesman, explained how the 10 or so proposed geo-probes, or small monitoring wells made of polyvinyl chloride pipes fitted with filters, will be drilled about 50 feet deep into the ground so experts can get a better picture of where natural gas might be leaking.
Resident Nick Romero did not have to evacuate from his residence, but he said after the meeting that he is very concerned for his community.
“Did I get all the information I wanted? No. Do they know (the answers) to all our questions? I don’t think so,” Romero said. “Our thing is to get as much information as we can and make them think they are not doing enough.
“The community is frustrated — they don’t know when they can come home. It could be a year or two years.”
Indications of natural gas have been found in an aquifer beneath the Bayou Corne area northwest of the Napoleonville Dome, according to reports. The aquifer is located in strata overlying the top of the dome.
Natural gas, in addition to its presence in the aquifer, also has been found in a solid salt deposit caprock crowning the dome.
The cavern was hollowed out of the 1-mile-by-3-mile Napoleonville Dome after nearly three decades of use for brine production, according to reports. The dome is a solid salt formation that emerged from deeper deposits left by ancient seas and has been used for oil and gas exploration, brine production and hydrocarbon storage for decades.
The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has ordered the Napoleonville Dome’s seven operators to find and vent off any gas.
The agency also is working with contractor Shaw Environmental on observation wells northwest of the dome that could be used to eventually vent off the gas.
Anyone in the Bayou Corne area who wants an air monitor installed on their property to check for natural gas emissions is asked to call the state Department of Environmental Quality at (225) 219-3015.
Anyone experiencing health issues may call parish authorities at (985) 369-7435.
The Assumption Parish is website, http://assumptionla.wordpress.com, is being updated daily.