Sinkhole berm repairs planned

Texas Brine Co. management said Saturday that weather and conditions permitting, the company plans to begin work Monday on temporary repairs to the two remaining breaches in the earthen berm surrounding the Assumption Parish sinkhole.

“We’re just waiting for the water to recede so we can get back in there,” Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch said.

Heavy rains Thursday night and Friday morning caused floodwater to build up in the swamplands surrounding the 71-acre area that the berm, or levee, encompasses.

The flood burst through five breaches in the low and incomplete sections of the western and southwestern segments of the berm, a type of earthen levee, pushing 3 feet of water into the walled-off area, overtopping the 15.1-acre sinkhole containing brine and crude oil.

Texas Brine contractors patched up the three smaller breaches with clay Friday, but they were unable to reach the larger two because crews did not want to further damage what already had been built, Cranch said.

Another round of rain Saturday morning delayed work once again because, as of Saturday afternoon, much of the western and southwestern berms were underwater.

Cranch said workers may not have been able to work on fixing the breaches anyway Saturday because a lot of water remained from heavy thunderstorms earlier in the week.

The berm remains under construction and if the project had been closer to completion, the rain and high water might not have been such a serious problem, Cranch said.

Oil-retardant boom has been deployed in the sinkhole since it formed in an attempt to block any flow of the sinkhole’s oily contents into the freshwater swamps surrounding the sinkhole between Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou. Extra boom has been placed inside the berm, near the breaches, as a precautionary measure, Cranch said.

John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Saturday he is worried about the largest breach because it lies outside the containment area, unlike the second-largest breach, which is within the additional western berm extension that has been constructed.

“The water is basically stationary now,” Boudreaux said. “Without any flow, I don’t think any contaminants would get off site, but if the water starts dropping for whatever reason, then they don’t want any water flowing out. That’s when they would need to have those repairs done.”

He said the water level should not begin dropping until the end of next week.

Officials said Friday that the two large breaches were about 75 feet wide and 30 feet wide, respectively. Boudreaux said he could not tell if the openings in the berm had grown larger by Saturday afternoon because that area remained underwater.

The breaches occurred in the vicinity of prior subsidence problems that caused Texas Brine to take corrective action by extending the berm to contain the low areas.

The Louisiana Office of Conservation ordered Texas Brine to build the berm to contain brine and oil in the sinkhole and protect the surrounding swamps.

Scientists believe an underground Texas Brine salt dome cavern failed and caused the sinkhole to emerge by Aug. 3, prompting an evacuation of residents in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou.