Sinkhole bills advance

State Rep. Karen St. Germain punctuated her push Wednesday for bills stemming from an Assumption Parish sinkhole with a warning that Bayou Corne residents are mad as hell.

St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, was making the point to the Senate Natural Resources Committee that the state needs to implement safeguards in oil and gas drilling following the accident that forced hundreds of residents from their homes and created a 15.1-acre sinkhole.

“This is the framework. This is the first,” she said.

The committee voted without objection to advance House Bills 493 and 494 to the Senate floor, which could be their last stop before reaching the governor’s desk. The bills have picked up no public opposition during their move through the Legislature.

House Bill 492 would require the state commissioner of conservation to develop rules that, among other things, prevent caverns from being mined near the edge of a salt dome. The rules would force companies to tell the state more immediately about problems.

House Bill 493 would require the owner or operator of a cavern to record the well’s location in parish mortgage and conveyance records. Prospective landowners also would need to be notified if a salt cavity lies underneath or within half a mile of a property.

Two bayou communities in Assumption Parish have been under evacuation orders since a swampland sinkhole emerged in early August.

Scientists believe a salt dome cavern used by Texas Brine was mined too close to the dome’s outer face, triggering a sidewall collapse that set off tremors, created a sinkhole and released gas and crude oil.

Earlier this week, Gov. Bobby Jindal pressured the company to start offering buyouts to homeowners affected by the accident. Texas Brine contends a dispute with its insurers stalled buyout offers.

Many residents want buyouts after being out of their homes for nine months.

“No more excuses, no more delays” Jindal told Texas Brine during a news conference Monday.

At the State Capitol on Wednesday, it was St. Germain’s turn to champion the community’s cause.

“Residents are not only disgusted and angry ... they’re mad as hell,” she said.

St. Germain said the sinkhole has disrupted a bayou paradise.

State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Jeanerette, thanked St. Germain for taking the bull by the horns.

“I know this is close to Karen’s heart,” he said.

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Stephen Chutz said more changes are in store once the session ends.

Chutz said distinctions need to be made in rules governing salt dome caverns used to extract brine versus those used to store natural gas.

“The same rules are not applicable to both,” he said, adding that the public, the environmental community and industry will have input into the changes.