Mixed emotions expressed as homeowners assemble for sinkhole anniversary

Attendee wears T-shirt marking the anniversary of the Bayou Corne sinkhole.
Attendee wears T-shirt marking the anniversary of the Bayou Corne sinkhole.

BAYOU CORNE, LA (WAFB) - Riding around their Bayou Corne neighborhood, Roy and Ethel Gaudet talk fondly of the people who build lives there.  Poised on a golf cart- a standard mode of transportation in the small community- they pause here and there to point out different houses, even pulling up into one neighbor's yard to point out some bubbles in the nearby swamp.

When they cruise past their own home, talk turns bittersweet.

"We put about 80 to 90,000 dollars into our home in the last twenty years. We have built the way we want it. Sometimes she goes out and sits on the back porch and cries. We know we're never going back there," said Roy.

Like 350 other residents, the couple hasn't lived in their home in one year, since the sinkhole began eating away at their community.  In that one year, nearly 23 acres of land have slipped away into the slurry, dragging with them the hopes of this small town.

"It's a sad day for Bayou Corne because there was so much we didn't know a year ago and there's still so much more that we don't know today. The sad thing about it is the community is being dismantled, piece by piece, home by home, family by family," said resident and owner of Cajun Cabins, Dennis Landry.

Frustration, disappointment and exhaustion seemed to overwhelm the residents of Bayou Corne in Assumption Parish as they assembled August 3, marking the anniversary of the giant Louisiana sinkhole.

An equal mix of sweat and tears ran down the faces of residents during an emotional ceremony marking this anniversary under a hot August sky. Residents spoke of a struggle to hold the community together through a yearlong evacuation, the sinkhole and now pockets of dangerous gas.

"We're willing to stay, we're willing to take the risk we're just not ready to give up our piece of paradise," said Landry in a speech to his neighbors.

Others said a sad good bye.

"I really need to go on with my life, and a lot of us feel that way. Our lives have not had any resemblance of normal in a year. None," said resident Candy Blanchard who says she will never return to her home on the Bayou.

Still more called for action from the company responsible for the underground cavern that caused the sinkhole, Texas Brine, and from the state government.

"That 45 minute drive from here to Baton Rouge can almost be on another planet. The legislation of Louisiana is more concerned about gun control… as oppose to looking out for the people and making sure we have the right laws to control what these companies are doing," said Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré. "

On August 2, Governor Jindal and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell announced that the state will be suing Texas Brine for environmental damages caused by the failed Texas Brine cavern.

Governor Bobby Jindal's office reports that the Governor stated the following:

"By filing suit, we are staying committed to holding Texas Brine accountable for the damage they've caused to Bayou Corne and to Louisiana. We have already pushed for buyouts for affected residents and are undertaking a thorough review of all of Texas Brine's permits in our state. This suit is just the next step in making sure Texas Brine does the right thing and properly addresses the mess it's caused."

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell commented as well on his concerns about the safety of Louisiana citizens is the most important.

"The safety and welfare of our citizens is the top priority. Additionally, Louisiana has expended significant financial resources to help the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities receive the assistance and protection they need. We are pursuing this lawsuit to hold the appropriate parties responsible for this tragic event," said Caldwell.

After a year, residents say they hoped to the situation would be resolved.  They express anger at the way they feel they have been treated.  Several residents asked why no state officials were present during the anniversary ceremony.

Unfortunately for these residents, both parish and Texas Brine officials agree that this is far from over.  While 3D seismic surveys conducted by Texas Brine seem to indicate that the sinkhole itself is beginning to slow and stabilize, the recovery has focused on a new danger: natural gas gathering underneath a nearby aquifer.

"With the amount of gas to be vented here at its current rate of flaring, it's going to take another three years to complete that," said Assumption Parish Emergency Operations Director John Boudreaux.

According to Texas Brine, in March the company was venting and flaring about 160,000 cubic feet of natural gas each day. Now, that amount has reduced to less than 20,000 cubic feet per day.  The company has 37 vent wells scattered around the area.

"We've seen a substantial reduction in the amount of gas we are flaring from the 37 vent wells. But, we realize we have some gas remaining and our efforts are targeted in removing what gas remains," said Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch, who adds that the exact amount of remaining gas is hard to estimate.

However, Cranch says make no mistake, Texas Brine has not taken any of the past year lightly.

"This has been a disruption [for residents] and we regret that. We want to move this to a point where they feel safe to live in their homes," said Cranch.

Boudreaux says he has been in Bayou Corne everyday for the past 14 months, and he will not be going anywhere until the crisis is over.

"We're committed to see this thing through," said Boudreaux.

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