NEW ORLEANS— Texas Brine Co. and the property owners who sued over an August 2012 sinkhole in Assumption Parish on Tuesday reached a $48.1 million settlement to end damage claims and buyout their properties.
The proposed settlement was filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans and is awaiting a final order from Judge Jay C. Zainey. It comes about a week before the class-action litigation was set to go to trial on Monday.
"We firmly believe the $48 million is a really good settlement number," said Larry Centola, one of the attorney's representing the owners and residents who lived in about 90 properties in the Bayou Corne area.
Centola said the 90 properties are all in the area that has been under an evacuation order since the sinkhole emerged August 3, 2012. Centola did not have an exact number of people who were tied to those properties.
There are about 12 lawsuits still pending in state district court over the sinkhole, including those filed by pipeline companies and the Assumption Parish government.
Texas Brine officials said in a statement that negotiations with the plaintiffs' attorneys resulted in the "definitive agreement," which is conditioned on the purchase of the residents' property by Texas Brine.
"This settlement with the Class represents another major milestone in resolving issues associated with the sinkhole," the company said.
"While great progress has been made on resolving residential claims, Texas Brine remains committed to continuing its sinkhole response activities through the implementation of a comprehensive, long-term monitoring program."
The agreement would end all liability for Texas Brine and dismiss all claims against the company from the class action. The proposed settlement comes in addition to buyouts that Texas Brine has directly conducted with the owners of 66 other properties in the evacuation area. The last of those buyouts was closed March 21.
The sinkhole is now nearly 30 acres in size and is undergoing continued but slower growth.
Methane gas released underground by the sinkhole also poses a safety concern, parish and state officials say. Texas Brine disputes that claim.
Scientists have said they believe the sinkhole was caused by a Texas Brine-operated salt dome cavern that was mined too close to the outer face of the massive salt deposit. That led to a breach in the underground cavity that shifted surrounding rock and led to the sinkhole's formation in mid-2012 in the swamps near the 350-person Bayou Corne area.