Friday, October 24, 2014 Headlines & Global News

Louisiana Sinkhole: Massive 22-Acre Sinkhole Opens Up and Threatens Residents to Move Out Or Sue Salt Dome Operating Company (PHOTOS/VIDEO)

By Julia Lynn Rubin j.rubin@hngn.com | Jul 09, 2013 11:01 AM EDT

Louisiana Sinkhole
A sinkhole caused by a collapsed salt dome is forcing many residents to make the tough decision to leave, stay put or sue the company responsible. (Photo : Video Still)

A sinkhole along Bayou Corne in the swampy Assumption Parish community of Louisiana is forcing local residents to make a tough decision: move out, stay put or sue the company responsible for the mess caused by the collapse of a salt dome, the Daily Mail reports.

A salt dome is a large and naturally occurring underground salt deposit that companies mine by drilling on its outskirts to create caverns and extract brine used in the petrochemical refining process, or for storage of natural resources like hydrocarbons. According to officials, a company mined too close to the edge of the Napoelon Salt Dome, resulting in a side wall collapse. They expect the area to stabilize once the collapsed cavern fills with debris, but the land has shifted and the sinkhole has continued to grow. 

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"I cannot stand this!" said local resident Annette Richie as she packed up decades' worth of her belongings while moving out of her waterfront home on the bayou that was supposed to be her retirement nest. She along with many neighbors, including her neighbors of 20 years, Bucky and Joanie Mistretta, are choosing to move out as the 22-acre sinkhole is threateningly less than a mile away.

"We just feel that this place is not ever going to be what it once was," said Bucky Mistretta. "It was just a beautiful, pristine place on the bayou. And now that's gone, and we just don't feel safe about what's underneath us."

Bucky and his wife Annette, a high school literacy teacher, are part of a class-action lawsuit against Texas Brine Co., the company responsible for the sinkhole, that is scheduled for trial next year.

The state of Louisiana fined the company $260,000 last year for its slow response to building a containment berm around the sinkhole and installing air monitoring devices in local residents' homes.  

The sinkhole is a result of an underground salt dome collapsing 40 miles south of Baton Rogue, La., the dome operated by Texas Brine Co., which is now operating buyouts of residents' properties. Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch told the Daily Mail that 92 buyout offers have been made and 44 have been accepted so far.

The Richies and the Mistrettas are among those that have opted for Texas Brine Co.'s buyout offer. The sinkhole was first discovered last August, and after oil and gas came oozing up from the muck, the 350 residents of the community were told to evacuate.

Residents who have chosen to stay in the community wonder if they are safe or not as a glow-growing sinkhole continues to open up and threatens to destroy the area's infrastructure. Parish officials have said they don't foresee the natural gas bubbles causing an explosion, though they are currently monitoring the issue, as gas had been detected underneath at least four homes on the north side of the community, though its levels are low, according to John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

"It's hard to leave a beautiful little bayou paradise unless you feel it's absolutely necessary, and thus far, we're just hanging on," said Dennis Landry, a 20-year property owner who is staying put despite the sinkhole. '"We go to the meetings. We get daily reports. We check the blog for any information. We have gas monitors inside of our homes. We just take it day by day."

The close-knit, peaceful community that is a popular spot for fishing and camping will change, according to Landry, and no one knows yet what will become of the houses purchased in the buyout, whether or not they'll be torn down, occupied or left vacant.

"Unfortunately and sadly enough, I think we are going to witness the partial destruction and elimination of a wonderful little community here on the bayou," he said.

Officials are not forcing anyone to leave, though they are informing residents of the potential risks, including the natural gas accumulation, which is a particular scare to Annette Richie. 

'"Maybe nothing's ever going to happen. Maybe the ground is just going to start sinking below us," she said. "I can't stay with all those unknowns. It's like what's next?"

Click here to see photos of the community dealing with the aftermath of the growing sinkhole threatening many residents to leave the area and local workers to clean up oil in a seemingly neverending task.


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