Editor’s Note: What follows is the release out of Gov. Jindal’s office on his meeting with the officials in Assumption Parish and the suits at Texas Brine about the sinkhole. Jindal has been criticized for being late to the party, but there is a legitimate debate to be had about whether the governor stepping in at the end of the process in a case such as this is really such a bad thing. After all, he can’t really stop a sinkhole from growing, and he also can’t force the settlement of a lawsuit – in fact, it’s probably something akin to an abuse of power for the governor to get involved in such a matter depending on how he would go about an action like that.
We’re not sure if today’s announcement qualifies for such criticism. Clearly, Texas Brine was going to be paying settlements or buyouts to the residents of Bayou Corne – the question would obviously be what amount they’d pay.
The big issue at this point, though, is whether Texas Brine stays solvent enough to make their victims whole. That hasn’t gotten anywhere near as much play as it should have – particularly in comparison to the questions about how often Jindal has visited the sinkhole.
Following a meeting with Texas Brine officials, Governor Jindal joined local officials and legislators from Assumption Parish to announce that Texas Brine has agreed to provide settlement offers, which include buyouts, for the residents who have been forced to evacuate as a result of the sinkhole in Bayou Corne. Governor Jindal also announced the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to help ensure long-term safety in the Bayou Corne community.
Governor Jindal said, “More than 350 lives have been uprooted by the Bayou Corne sinkhole. For months, our administration has been pressuring Texas Brine to step up to the plate and do the right thing for the residents of Bayou Corne. Texas Brine is responsible for the sinkhole, and we’ve remained committed to holding them accountable.
“After months of discussions, and after meeting with Texas Brine officials this afternoon, the company has agreed to start providing settlement offers, which include buyouts. This is a positive step and we are hopeful that the process will be in the best interest of the residents.
“We are also announcing today the creation of of a Blue Ribbon Commission whose mission will be to ensure the long-term safety of Bayou Corne residents. With the establishment of vent wells in the area, and with the expected delivery of new 3-D seismic data, now is the appropriate time to develop specific criteria to determine long-term safety goals. The Blue Ribbon Commission will draw from experts from around the world to help guide leaders in Assumption Parish with specific benchmarks to protect the safety of property and lives in the Bayou Corne Community.”
The Blue-Ribbon Commission will develop specific criteria to determine long-term safety goals. Three areas of concern will be addressed by the commission: levels of shallow gas in the aquifer; current and future stability on the western side of Napoleonville Salt Dome; and management and containment of the sinkhole coupled with the determination of potential void spaces below the sinkhole.
To provide benchmarks for recommendations, the commission will address at least two key factors, including appropriate conditions to determine sustained public safety and the data needed to assess those conditions. The commission will make recommendations on what the safety benchmarks should be and on when they have been sufficiently met. Membership will be drawn from scientific experts in fields specific to the different areas of concern – including from federal and state agencies, academia, contractors and others with needed expertise.
Commission members will be appointed by the end of next week. State officials will make the appointments in consultation with local officials.
Senator Rick Ward said, “Today is a positive day for the people of Bayou Corne. These settlement negotiations are a great option for these residents, but we still have a lot of work left to do. We will continue working with Texas Brine and state and local officials to help these residents get back to their regular lives.”
Representative Karen St. Germain said, “We’re working hard and doing all we can to make this community heal and to let residents decide their own fate. These settlements – whether it be a buy out or compensation- and speaking to each and every homeowner will be the first step in doing that. DOTD is implementing its monitoring plan for La 70 to continue to ensure the roadway is safe for drivers, and we expect Texas Brine to reimburse these costs. We won’t stop working until we help the people of Bayou Corne get back to their day-to-day lives.”
Assumption Parish Police Jury President Martin “Marty” Triche said, “Residents of Bayou Corne have been through a lot – and these settlements and buyouts are one option to help them get back to their lives. We won’t know if this will be a complete success, but we are sure ready to try, and begin moving forward.”
Assumption Parish Sheriff Waguespack said, “This is a good step forward for the people of Bayou Corne. This settlement process will later be determined as a success or a failure, but we know this move has the potential to go a long way in getting the people of Bayou Corne back to normal.”
Part of the Governor’s meeting on Monday with officials from Assumption focused on monitoring of La. 70. The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) is conducting daily visual inspections, weekly visual bridge inspections and monthly GPS surveys of La. 70 in the proximity of the sinkhole. DOTD compares the results of each survey to determine any movement of the terrain.
Moving forward, DOTD has prepared a three part monitoring system, including Automated, continuous monitoring of roadway and bridges for movement; Automated, continuous monitoring of roadway and bridges for subsidence; and a detection and motorist warning system. DOTD estimates the installation will take 6 to 8 weeks. DOTD will be meeting this week with Texas Brine to provide input. DOTD will initially cover the cost for this through the emergency fund and they will be billing Texas Brine for the full cost.
The Governor noted that Parish officials and the state continue to wait on Texas Brine to reimburse the cost for sinkhole response efforts. Assumption Parish government has billed Texas Brine for about $480,000 and has been reimbursed by $265,000. The Assumption Parish Sheriff’s office has billed Texas Brine for $340,000 and been reimbursed by $190,000.
The state has billed Texas Brine for over $3.5 million and incurred a total cost of nearly $8 million, but the state has not received any reimbursement.