Bayou Corne sinkhole threatens residents

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR

Bayou Corne resident Dennis Landry wakes up in the morning and it typically starts with a cup of coffee like most. He walks out onto a marsh and looks at bubbling that is about 30 feet away from his house. He walks over to Assumption Office of Emergency Planning (OEP) to find out what's going on. Then he might stop by Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) command center and see if the air is still okay. Then, he might stop by and see the folks with Department of Natural Resources. And then, he'll go see if they are all telling the same story. It's been like this since August third.

On August third, a sinkhole formed overnight in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou area swamps in Assumption Parish. The residents along the bayous often see bubbling and some feel earthquake-like tremors. Landry lives about 3000 feet from the hole, but he said he has never felt tremors like some of his neighbors have.

What caused the sinkhole is still unknown, but the owners of the land it is occupying is the Texas Brine Company.

The Texas Brine Company's cavern was carved from the Napoleonville Dome after years of solution mining and is near the Salt Dome's western edge. The dome is a 1-by-3-mile solid salt deposit that was used for brine production, hydrocarbon storage and oil and gas exploration for many years. Last year, they stopped using it and sealed it. Questions are raised as to why the abandonment of the dome. However for Landry, who owns land near the sinkhole, all he can do is wait for the right answers. When the hole first developed it was the size of two football fields, now it spreads about eight acres, according to Landry.

Landry said Bayou Corne is not on top of the Salt Dome. But, he said what the experts believed happened is oil and gas from the hum reservoir got into the cavern and a big gas bubble may have formed causing the Salt Dome to collapse. The sinkhole was created with all that falling into the cavern, according to Landry.

Because Landry owns much of the land in sinkhole area and follows closely, he can attest to what has been going on over the past six months, but he said he is no expert.

"I'm not a scientist, I'm not a geologist, I'm not an engineer, I'm not an attorney," Landry said at the Rotary Luncheon last week. "I'm a citizen who lives in Bayou Corne and feel like I know a little bit about the situation, because if for no other reason, I have all the state agents, the parish, the state police, everybody sitting on my property."

In May, Landry said he went out on his boat into the bayou and noticed a strong bubbling that he had never seen before. He called Crosstek to get them to check its pipelines and the divers found that it was not coming from its lines. Acadian did the same and found nothing.

The focused changed on August third when the sinkhole developed. According to Landry though, the sinkhole is actually a misnomer.

"The textbook definition of a sinkhole I believe is just where the Earth collapses like happens in Florida frequently," Landry said. "But in this case, they think it was more of a gas bubble effect coming from the bottom. Coming up like this hole regurgitated."

When the hole was formed on August third, the Assumption Parish sent out a mandatory evacuation to the residents. Not all left, including Landry, and since then there isn't just tremors underground, but also amongst the community. Landry said the incident has caused division in it.

"People who have evacuated feel like by us staying, we are hurting their case," Landry said. "It's going to look better in a court I presume, if everybody would have evacuated. To date we have not been forced out."

Fox 44 reports that the Assumption Parish Police Jury passed a resolution last week that requests Texas Brine buy out property owners who want to leave their homes permanently and to compensate those who want to stay. According to the report, officials have not sent the request just yet, but a spokesman with Texas Brines says they're not ready to talk buyouts yet.

Because Landry has stayed home, he's been able to experience the full effect of living near a sinkhole and he's gotten some exclusive sights of the hole by both air and boat.

"I think I caught a glimpse of hell on Earth," Landry said. "All you saw was a giant mud-hole with trees floating around, a strong gas smell."

Landry doesn't worry about his water being contaminated and other health risks. He said the DEQ looks to detect gas and checks air quality daily. He said DEQ assures the residents the air they're breathing isn't presenting them with health risks. But, he said you could get a strong smell of crude oil.

Now, Landry and the other residents are getting gas monitors installed in their homes, which was an order to the Texas Brine Company to do. As far as being afraid, Landry said his biggest fear right now is for something to happen at nighttime and no one will know in time to save lives.

"I try to listen to the science. I'm not a panicky type person," Landry said. "I know we are at risk by staying there, if something happened suddenly."