BAYOU CORNE, Louisiana — Texas Brine Co. is asking the Louisiana Office of Conservation to allow it to stop $875 evacuation assistance checks the company pays weekly to a few remaining residents and property owners in Bayou Corne.
The Houston-based company has been making the payments at a total cost of nearly $12 million since Aug. 17, 2012, two weeks after the sinkhole appeared near the Bayou Corne community in Assumption Parish and forced a mandatory evacuation order still largely in place.
Texas Brine attorney Troy Charpentier said the company recently made its case in a hearing before state Department of Natural Resources that methane and stability conditions around the sinkhole have improved greatly and merit an end to the checks.
"We think we've proved neither the subsidence nor the gas pose any risk to the residences," Charpentier said.
Office of Conservation scientists believe years of salt dome mining by the Houston company triggered formation of the sinkhole when mining got too close to the outer face of the dome, a large, solid, underground salt deposit. A breach opened in the hollow cavern created by years of past mining, and surrounding sediments filled the void.
The sinkhole's formation also cracked open natural deposits of methane gas that posed an explosion risk to homes if the invisible and odorless gas built up inside or under the homes, the scientists said.
Under pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2013 to allow people who wanted to leave to be made whole, Texas Brine directly bought out 65 property owners and, more recently, bought out another 87 in a $48.1 million federal class-action settlement.
Charpentier said the few remaining weekly checks go to residents who continue to live in eight homes in Bayou Corne and to five landowners who were excluded from the class-action.
Residents who took home buyouts from Texas Brine continued to receive their evacuation assistance payments until sales closed.
Charpentier said the company's experts and officials believe the 31-acre sinkhole is not a threat to homes. They pointed out that the breached cavern, whose once-great empty space drove the sinkhole's formation, has been completely filled with surrounding sediments. The sinkhole is now only finding its final, natural shape along its edges, they claim.
Meanwhile, gas removal is winding down, and methane has not been measured in homes over the past two years, Charpentier said.
Patrick Courreges, DNR spokesman, tells The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1vzdYq3) the Office of Conservation is evaluating the request and has 30 days from the Jan. 28 hearing to make a decision.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com
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