Residents Defiant One Year After Bayou Corne Sinkhole
The day before the one-year anniversary marking the Bayou Corne sinkhole, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced that the state is suing Texas Brine and a Dallas subsidiary of oil giant Occidental Petroleum for damage to the environment.
Meanwhile Texas Brine filed suits against three other companies it alleges share responsibility for the failed salt cavern's collapse, thus creating a sinkhole that has by now consumed 24 acres while continually growing.
The sinkhole caused natural gas to be released into the aquifer and under the community that has been under mandatory evacuation since August 3, 2012.
Over a hundred people gathered less than a mile from the sinkhole to commemorate the disaster. Parish Police Jury President Marty Triche, who called for the mandatory evacuation, reminded those at the ceremony the danger is very real. Gas has the potential to fill a home undetected and explode.
But some residents never left, willing to tolerate the risks rather than become refugees.
Resident Dennis Laundery, owner of Cajan Cabins, is loath to give up what he describes as his slice of paradise. Seventy-seven miles from New Orleans, Bayou Corne is situated in a pristine swamp, home to fish, alligators and moss-covered cypress trees.
Still beautiful, the area can no longer be described as paradise. There is noise from ongoing construction efforts to contain the pollutants and monitor seismic activity at the sinkhole site. Numerous vent wells have been installed to relieve the gas pressure flare. And an intermittent stench from hydrocarbons permeates the area. Those who have elected to stay live in hope that the situation will resolve itself.
The long-term health consequences for those who remain are unclear. The Department of Environmental Quality maintains that air pollution in the area is not significant, but environmental scientist Wilma Subra disagrees. According to Subra, breathing in hydrocarbons over a period of time is cumulatively bad for your health, even if it's at a low level.
During the ceremony, Subra pointed out that the stress of living in a mandatory evacuation zone takes a toll on ones' health too.
Resident Candy Blanchard echoed that point. "It isn't about giving up a house,” she told the group. “It's about giving up a home, a place you have made just as you want it for years, a place where you know your neighbors and have a sense of community. To go where?"
Resident Mike Shaff noted that the $875 a week Texas Brine by law had to give residents over the course of the mandatory evacuation doesn't cover the cost of getting a room at a local Holiday Inn.
"Without a buyout,” he asked, “where can you restart your life?"
Homeowners taking buyouts are being offered little over the market value of what their home was worth before the sinkhole, which is problematic since that doesn't equal replacement value. The value of homes in the neighboring areas have skyrocketed since demand is up. Schaff, unsatisfied with the buyout offer he got, will battle things out along with others who have signed on to a class action lawsuit.
Retired general Russel Honore, famous in Louisiana for his post-Katrina leadership, has become a spokesman for the community. He hopes to put pressure on the federal government to step in.
"Democracy has failed you," Honore told those gathered at the ceremony, pointing out that oil and gas companies involved in drilling are exempt from the Clean Water Act. “The resources the extraction companies are taking from this green earth so close to where we sit today are critical to America, but there has to be a balance between extraction from our Earth and caring for the Earth. The people will not sit by while the environment is ruined by extraction companies.”
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