Police Jury calls for buyouts

The Assumption Parish Police Jury wants Texas Brine Co. LLC to consider the option of buyouts for residents displaced by a Bayou Corne-area sinkhole.

Evacuated since Aug. 3 from their swampland community because of safety concerns due to the sinkhole’s emergence, some residents have been calling for buyouts of their property, which they say cannot be sold and cannot be lived in.

However, other residents have said that they would rather stay, if they are able to do so safely.

Police Jury President Martin “Marty” Triche said Tuesday parish officials know they cannot make Texas Brine offer buyouts, but have heard Bayou Corne residents ask for the assistance.

“Our goal is to support those residents that wish to leave,” he said.

He said he has not received any information to indicate the evacuation order, which affects about 150 homes on the north and south sides of La. 70 South, will be lifted anytime soon.

“We’re five months into this, and there may not be a short-term end in sight, and people are now saying, given all that’s happened, everything that’s transpired, some residents say, ‘We’re never going to feel safe. We don’t want return there,’ ” Triche said.

“I guess their position is they would just like to move on with their lives.”

Residents first reported a marked increase in the intensity and number of bubbling methane sites in area bayous in late May. Underground tremors followed.

Then the sinkhole emerged on property Texas Brine leases from Occidental Petroleum Corp. between Grand Bayou and Bayou Corne.

Scientists believe the sidewall of an abandoned Texas Brine salt cavern inside but near the edge of the Napoleonville Dome caved in, admitting the outer sediments.

This caused the sinkhole to surface and unleashed methane gas and crude oil from pockets alongside the salt dome now showing up in the sinkhole and in Texas Brine’s cavern.

Methane has also been found in an underlying aquifer, further enforcing the need for the evacuation, parish officials have said.

The state Department of Natural Resources and Texas Brine have installed vent wells to burn off methane, so far releasing more than 2.25 million cubic feet through Friday evening, parish officials said.

Triche said parish officials would like to see Texas Brine consider financial compensation to those residents who want to stay but who have seen the value of their properties nosedive since Aug. 3.

Police jurors unanimously adopted nonbinding resolutions on Wednesday on buyout offers as well as informing the Department of Natural Resources that the parish government objects to granting Texas Brine any time extensions for its required responses.

Parish officials disclosed the actions Tuesday in a blog post.

Sonny Cranch, Texas Brine spokesman, said the company has not reached the point at which it would start discussing the option of buyouts.

“All of our efforts now are concentrated on complying with the various orders from the Department of Natural Resources,” he said in a statement.

At least five lawsuits have been filed by residents and landowners in state and federal courts over the sinkhole emergency, all naming Texas Brine and other parties as defendants.

Triche said the Police Jury’s intention is not to offer legal advice or influence any court action.

Texas Brine wants the lawsuits, filed in 23rd Judicial District Court, which has jurisdiction in Assumption, Ascension and St. James parishes, moved to U.S. District Court in New Orleans. A federal judge has not yet made a ruling on federal jurisdiction.

Kim Mabile, 28; her husband, Lucas; and their 3-year-old daughter evacuated Aug. 3 and took up temporary residence at her mother and father-in-law’s home in Pierre Part. Kim Mabile said she would like to see a buyout happen and will not bring her family back to Bayou Corne.

“Who wants to be scared to death to live in their own place and not know what’s going to happen next?” she asked.

Kim Mabile said the resolution approved by the Police Jury is a little bit of good news, although she said some parish officials had expressed doubt and hesitancy in the past about the chances for a buyout.

Sandy Foret, 48, and her husband evacuated initially, but returned home a few weeks later and were at home Tuesday. While the evacuation order is dubbed “mandatory,” the parish has not forced residents actually to leave.

She said many residents who live on Sportsman’s Drive south of La. 70 have stayed in their homes post-sinkhole and she and her husband would like to do the same.

“I think for us, we would love to live here in our beautiful bayou community happily ever after, but if it’s not safe to do so, we’re going to weigh our options. It remains to be seen. Let’s just put it that way,” said Foret, who is an Assumption Parish government employee.

Foret and Mabile said they have not joined the pending litigation, but have begun speaking with lawyers.

Triche said parish officials raised an objection to time extensions for Texas Brine after the company recently asked DNR for four weeks extra to establish two more vent wells in the community.

On Saturday, three days after the vent well resolution was approved, the state Office of Conservation said it was fining Texas Brine a combined $100,000 for not moving quickly enough on three directives. Among those orders was installation of the two new vent wells by Nov. 27, prompting a $10,000 fine.

Cranch said the company has been working as quickly as possible and in good faith to comply with the Nov. 12 orders but has been trying to get landowner access and hire an outside firm for assistance with the wells.