Assumption sinkhole levee under repair as lawsuits mount

Texas Brine Co. contractors expect to have a swath of sunken containment levee around the Assumption Parish sinkhole temporarily restored by sometime Friday, a company spokesman said.

In the meantime, lawsuits have continued to mount against Texas Brine and other defendants over the sinkhole, bringing the total in state and federal court to 14, court filings show.

Sonny Cranch, spokesman for Houston-based Texas Brine, said contractors planned to work as late as possible Thursday night on the levee encircling the sinkhole between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.

A 400- to 500-foot section of the levee sank as much as 3.9 feet under water overnight Monday after an active period of tremors near the sinkhole.

“We’re still packing in sand. They’ll work late tonight and keep working as long as they can, and if they don’t finish late tonight, they’ll finish tomorrow morning,” Cranch said early Thursday evening.

John Boudreaux, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said as rain was falling that about 100 feet of berm remained to be restored by Thursday evening.

“More than likely, it will be tomorrow” before the levee is patched, he said.

Boudreaux said the tremors, which often signal new subterranean events may start affecting the sinkhole, have subsided enough to ease some safety restrictions around the hole.

The Louisiana Office of Conservation ordered the containment levee, or berm, installed to keep brine and oil in the sinkhole from escaping into freshwater swamps surrounding the hole.

Scientists believe a Texas Brine salt dome cavern failed deep underground last year after it was mined too closely to the face of the salt deposit, triggering the emergence of the sinkhole in early August. About 350 people have been under evacuation orders for more than 10 months as a result of the sinkhole and its suspected side effects.

Cranch said Texas Brine is planning to reroute the section of sunken levee farther south of the sinkhole in a move to establish a more permanent fix.

He said company officials are waiting on survey data from inside the flooded containment area.

The levee now surrounds an 82-acre area that includes the 15.1-acre sinkhole.

The latest batch of lawsuits seeking damages were filed between May 29 and 31 in the 23rd Judicial District Court in Napoleonville, but some did not show up in the record until earlier this week.

About 70 individual property owners or residents are plaintiffs in the five suits, as well as a few businesses and limited liability companies.

All five suits name Texas Brine and Occidental Chemical Corp., a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp., as defendants.

The suits claim the companies and other defendants share in negligence over the sinkhole and similarly recount allegations raised in earlier suits about indications in 2010 that the cavern may have been in jeopardy.

Some suits name the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and Miller Engineering and Associates Inc. as defendants, too. All but one of the five new suits include punitive damages among their lists of claims.

Occidental leases the cavern site to Texas Brine, which mined the cavern until it was closed in mid-2011 after a failed expansion try.

Officials with DNR, Occidental and Miller Engineering declined comment on pending litigation Thursday. Cranch said Texas Brine would review the suits and respond appropriately.