Morgan J. Landry / Houma Courier
BAYOU CORNE — Frustration continues at the Bayou Corne sinkhole despite assurances from parish officials as well as the company that operated the collapsed underground salt dome cavern.
“Texas Brine indicated to the community that they should be able to remove all gas by the end of the year,” said John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “I would say that it's probably their plan, but I don't believe that can happen”.
Boudreaux told the Assumption Parish Police Jury's Engineering/Grants Committee on June 11 that after two years of venting the gas pockets inside the aquifer, gas levels are finally going down.
“The No. 1 bubble site now shows zero on the gauge. It has not shown any indication of gas in that location,” he said.
Scientists have said the sinkhole seems to be stabilizing, despite it swallowing six cypress trees in April. Its size has not gotten much bigger since spring.
The sinkhole is believed to have been caused by the salt dome cavern being mined too close to the outer face of the massive salt deposit, scientists said.
In 2009, the cavern failed a pressure integrity test and mining operations ceased. The cavern was ordered to be abandoned by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and Texas Brine complied in June 2011.
The sinkhole was discovered Aug. 3, 2012, and has grown to 29 acres. About 350 residents were forced to evacuate. Texas Brine officials originally didn't claim responsibility, but later did.
Dozens of residents accepted buyouts from Texas Brine. In April, the company and property owners who sued reached a $48.1 million settlement to end damage claims and buy out their properties.
Some residents have called the sinkhole a crime against them because Texas Brine officials had known about problems with the cavern prior to 2012.
Ken Simoneaux, who still owns his home in Bayou Corne but has moved away, is one of those residents.
“I was born and raised in Paincourtville and I always wanted to live in Bayou Corne. I first moved to Bayou Corne in 1982. I put my mobile home in the RV park. My Dad bought a lot and gave it to me for a wedding present. I started with a 50-foot by 100-foot lot. Then over the years, I have accumulated right at one acre. I worked my ass off trying to get my place nice. I finally got it where I wanted it and it was taken from me. They took my place in paradise.
“I don't want market rates. I want replacement cost. Find me a lot with 290 feet of water edge, 200 feet of highway frontage, an acre of land with 100-foot-tall oak trees,” he said.
Simoneaux said Texas Brine wants to only pay for the building and the land. However, the company is forgetting about all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building his dream.
He is proud of how one of his sons killed a deer in a hunting club just a five-minute boat ride from his property.
Simoneaux has a very dim view of some offers Texas Brine made to purchase homes within the community because those offers were made to residents who did not have lawyers.
He very seldom sleeps at his home.
“My fear is the gas,” he said, adding he has stayed away when the monitor in his home goes off.
Simoneaux has been alone the few nights he has spent at his home because he does not want to place his family in danger. But he hasn't gotten a good sleep there.
“You wake up at every little noise you hear,” he said.
Simoneaux said he is worried about developing cancer as many residents in the community have. He is seriously contemplating whether industry in the area has something to do with the fact that so many locals have cancer.
But Don Gros doesn't point the finger of blame, saying the sinkhole was an accident.
“Accidents happen. I've worked in the oilfield. I know about those things,” he said.
Gros, a disabled resident of Bayou Corne, evacuated to his father's home in Labadieville because of the mandatory evacuation order and to get away from the danger zone.
“I was worried about how I was going to get out if something happened,” Gros said. “We never knew what was going to happen from one moment to the next. I never had the slightest idea if I had a ride to get out of there or to get back.”
Gros said he was not scared, but he was stressed during the first days of the sinkhole.
Shortly after residents began receiving $875 in weekly checks from Texas Brine to help with the evacuation expenses, Gros said his rent in Bayou Corne went up from $650 to $957 a month. And the company has told evacuees they cannot buy property within three miles of the sinkhole.
“You gonna buy that man's house, it's his money, and you gonna tell him where he's got to live at?” Gros said.
He added that he was fortunate to meet Jessica Cavalier, who has been helping him.
Cavalier is one of those who believe Texas Brine committed a crime against Bayou Corne residents.
“They knew, and they kept it under the door. Well, yeah, hell yeah. I would consider it a crime,” she said.