Jindal sidesteps questions about sinkhole visit

Gov. Bobby Jindal did not give a reason Wednesday for why he has not visited a sinkhole that is keeping hundreds of residents in Assumption Parish under an evacuation order.

The issue came up during a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion about a Baton Rouge business project.

Jindal outlined the business project and then opened up the news conference for questions.

Asked when he might visit the sinkhole that was found Aug. 3 in northern Assumption Parish, Jindal did not give a direct answer. Instead, the governor listed the state agencies tasked with monitoring the sinkhole and vowed to hold someone responsible for damage to homes.

“We get constant updates ... I know it’s been a long, frustrating process for them,” the governor said, referring to the displaced residents.

The question was posed a second and third time about when residents can expect to see him. The governor repeated the same response without addressing when or if he might visit the sinkhole evacuees.

“Again, we’ll continue to work with those agencies to make sure we hold the company accountable,” Jindal said.

The governor’s press secretary, Sean Lansing, then changed the topic of the questioning by calling on a reporter who had not raised his hand. When the reporter expressed puzzlement at his name being called, Lansing called on a different reporter.

The news conference shifted away from the sinkhole and onto other topics, including a tax system overhaul plan that is expected to be the focal point of the upcoming legislative session.

About 350 residents are under evacuation orders in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.

A Texas Brine cavern underwent a sidewall collapse at a depth of more than 5,000 feet, allowing rock to flow into the brine-filled cavity. The shift in the earth caused a sinkhole.

Jindal has come under criticism for not visiting the site, which has kept some residents out of their homes for months.

Adding to residents’ frustration is the inability to sell their homes until the sinkhole issue is resolved. Texas Brine has not offered buyouts.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich and a California lawyer will be in Pierre Part on Saturday to talk to residents about their legal options. Brockovich is famous for her work on a $333 million settlement for California residents exposed to contaminated ground water.

While not visiting the sinkhole, the governor has traveled the country for political events. He was out of state almost one day of every four in 2012, but never made it to the sinkhole site in Assumption Parish, less than 40 miles from the Governor’s Mansion. He recently was in Washington, D.C., for a White House dinner and other events. While there, he blasted the president for campaigning instead of tackling problems.

Jindal also had little to say Wednesday about the tax plan he will unveil to legislators next week.

The plan will eliminate the state’s personal income and corporate taxes in exchange for replacing the revenue with other tax sources.

Still unknown is how much state sales, cigarette and other taxes would have to increase to make up for the lost revenue.

The governor said he still is holding meetings to finalize the details. He said he expects the plan to change as it moves through the legislative process.

“We’ll be ready by March 15,” Jindal said.