Residents voice concerns over proposed salt dome regulations

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Residents who live near the Bayou Corne sinkhole took their frustrations straight to state leaders.

The Department of Natural Resources asked for public input on new regulations involving salt domes. Citizens responded with several suggestions.

The events that created the giant sink hole in Bayou Corne are still very present in the minds of people who live there. They lined up on Tuesday morning for a chance to weigh in on proposed regulations that would tighten laws on companies that mine and use hydrocarbon storage caverns near private property.

Homeowner, Nick Romero, showed up with a long list of revisions.

"To whom much is given much is also expected," Romero stated.

He and others want the state to make companies that own and operate the sites provide a better alert system, comprehensive evacuation plan, and change the method of determining financial responsibility.

Assumption Parish President, Marty Triche, echoed that request stating Texas Brine still owes the parish tens of thousands of dollars.

"I want the department to understand we have had a tough time having our response effort reimbursed. This is not parish money it is tax payer's money," Triche said.

John Hillman, a Louisiana resident, who does not live in Bayou Corne said he is worried the state is not doing enough to protect the environment or its inhabitants.

"No one can live in that area. The state ought to buy certain areas out there and set it aside to prevent anyone from living in it," Hillman said.

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russell Honore joined several environmentalists in calling for better security around salt domes, buffer zones, and requiring companies to have adequate insurance and liabilities. He said the state has done little to hold the industry responsible.

"When they do something wrong the laws that DNR has are so weak the companies in most cases pay the fine rather than fixing the problem," Honore said.

Louisiana Representative Karen St. Germain took to the podium calling the sinkhole disaster an embarrassment to the state. She urged DNR leaders to listen to the people who are struggling to recover from the manmade nightmare.

"What we need to do is make sure the rules and regs mirror the responses you heard today," St. Germain said.

The DNR is accepting written public comments on the proposed regulations through December 6, 2013.

They can be submitted directly to the DNR Office of Conservation on the 9th floor of the Lasalle Building on North Third Street, or via postal mail.

Texas Brine said residents who are receiving evacuation assistance checks because of the sinkhole will get them Wednesday instead of Thursday because of the Thanksgiving holiday. The checks will be handed out at the command trailer. The schedule returns to normal next week.

At last check, the sinkhole was 26 acres in size. The president of United Brine, a subsidiary of Texas Brine, has stated the surface could get to 50 acres but the good news is it is moving in a southwest pattern, which is away from homes and the community.

History of the sinkhole

The sinkhole opened up in August 2012 and was roughly 1/24 of the size it is now. The sinkhole formed when an underground salt cavern collapsed.

In the past, seismic activity is reported, then the sinkhole burps up debris and then a slough-in happens. Burps occur when air and gas from deep in the sinkhole bubbles up. It can cause debris and an oily substance to float to the top. A slough-in is when the sinkhole swallows trees and land that is on the edge of the sinkhole.

Berms were placed around the sinkhole shortly after it opened up to keep the oily, debris filled water contained to the sinkhole area so it would not contaminate the area bayous.

It has more than a year since hundreds living near the giant sinkhole were forced from their homes.

Bubbles were spotted in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou in June 2012. Two months later, the ground opened up and left what is now a 24-acre sinkhole. Residents were evacuated and the most affected residents began receiving weekly checks from Texas-Brine in the amount of $875 per week. Texas Brine owns the salt cavern that collapsed, causing the sinkhole.

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

Parish and Texas Brine officials agree the situation is far from over. 3D seismic surveys show the sinkhole itself it beginning to slow and stabilize, but the recovery is focused on another danger; natural gas gathering underneath a nearby aquifer.

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