Assumption Police Jury meeting gets heated

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Petroleum geophysicist Don Marlin is introduced to the audience during a public meeting Wednesday night at the Napoleonville Community Center called to discuss  issues raised by the Assumption Parish sinkhole emergency.  Marlin was hired to conduct an independent evaluation of  three-dimensional seismic data to be gathered  from  the sinkhole and vicinity. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Petroleum geophysicist Don Marlin is introduced to the audience during a public meeting Wednesday night at the Napoleonville Community Center called to discuss issues raised by the Assumption Parish sinkhole emergency. Marlin was hired to conduct an independent evaluation of three-dimensional seismic data to be gathered from the sinkhole and vicinity.

Assumption Parish Police Jury President Martin “Marty” Triche exchanged sharp words Wednesday night during a community meeting on the parish’s 8.6-acre sinkhole with a resident who asked whether Triche had any personal financial interests in dirt-hauling related to the response effort.

The episode, which led to the resident’s removal by a sheriff’s deputy at Triche’s direction but Triche’s later apology for the outburst, occurred about 11 minutes into the meeting before about 150 people. The session also revealed several new details on the sinkhole and the multi-level response to its effects.

A Shaw Environment and Infrastructure geologist working on the response urged Bayou Corne residents to consider allowing methane vent wells to be drilled on their property, while residents suggested authorities look around the neighborhood’s fringes for drilling sites to remove the gas.

Residents also learned that Shaw and the Louisiana Office of Conservation have hired petroleum geophysicist Don Marlin to interpret three-dimensional seismic data that Texas Brine Co. LLC is planning to collect around the sinkhole.

The interpretation from Marlin, an LSU graduate in geology who has worked on 3-D and other types of subsurface studies on the Gulf Coast for 30 years, will be independent of the one expected from Texas Brine’s consultant Kevin Hill, he said.

State Sen. Rick Ward III, D-Maringouin, told residents a joint legislative hearing on the sinkhole will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 19 at the State Capitol, and he and other legislators urged residents to attend.

“And any of you that can come, we sure hope that you can be there, and we’ll listen as long as you want to speak,” Ward told the group.

Ward said members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and House Natural Resources and Environment Committee would also be visiting the Bayou Corne area after the joint meeting but before the upcoming legislative session to see the sinkhole first-hand.

The sinkhole formed Aug. 3 after the suspected failure of a Texas Brine salt cavern has led to a standing mandatory evacuation of 150 residences in the area. The failure released oil and gas from formations along the sides of the Napoleonville Salt dome, from which the cavern was mined.

Bayou Corne resident Cathy Simoneaux prompted the heated response from Triche after first asking state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, whether Gov. Bobby Jindal had told her not to speak about the sinkhole issue and whether St. Germain had a pending job offer from the state Department of Natural Resources or another state agency.

St. Germain denied both assertions and Triche rose to her defense and her level of participation in the sinkhole response.

Simoneaux then asked Triche if he had a trucking company involved in the response and later whether his family did.

Dump trucks can be seen on La. 70 South carrying loads of dirt to Texas Brine’s site and a pad location west of it where the company is planning to install vent wells and build a containment berm around the sinkhole.

Triche denied both allegations.

“Ma’am, I’m not in the dirt company, and I can tell you right now, I’m not in the dirt business,” Triche said.

“If you are here to accuse people, ma’am, I’m not answering your questions.”

The Police Jury president said moments later that if Simoneaux was in the audience to be ugly to him, “I could be ugly right back.”

Triche said he has spent numerous hours trying to help with the sinkhole problems and it appeared she was trying to impugn his and St. Germain’s integrity and to embarrass both.

Triche added that his brother had been in the dirt business, but his brother had since died.

“Now you bring him up,” Triche said. “You want to bring that up?

Simoneaux responded she did not.

At that point, Triche asked a deputy sheriff to remove Simoneaux from the meeting hall.

“I had enough. I had enough,” Triche said.

Residents attending the meeting applauded as Simoneaux was escorted out while she shouted a profanity and asked the crowd, “Do you see what they are doing?”

After residents saw presentations showing Texas Brine’s plans to install a series of new vent wells that will burn off gas trapped under the area, Shaw geologist Gary Hecox showed residents that the wells would not affect the immediate Bayou Corne neighborhood and asked for landowners to cooperate.

Hecox said the wells are needed in the neighborhood to remove gas under it and to reduce pressure in the aquifer and clay layer above that aquifer.

But the prospect of pipes connecting wells to a flare stacks and the open-ended nature of the vent wells being left on residential property prompted residents to suggest different options.

Allen Hill, 66, a camp owner in Bayou Corne, suggested authorities look at placing vent wells in swamps on the fringes of the neighborhood.

Hecox, who said the wells can draw gas from a 500 foot-radius, agreed officials would look at that possibility.