Civil Air Patrol provides photo reconnaissance of Bayou Corne site
Using Air Force-supplied cameras and civilian pilots, the Louisiana Wing of the Civil Air Patrol has been providing aerial photographs of the Bayou Corne area sinkhole to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, according to Lt. Col. Paul Rappmundt of the St. Mary Parish Squadron.
Shortly after the sinkhole formed and was first observed as a small 370-foot slurry on Aug. 3, 2012, the Civil Air Patrol received a request from homeland security to provide imagery documentation of the sinkhole, he said.
The sinkhole formed between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities, when a salt dome cavern operated by Texas Brine failed and collapsed deep underground, leading to an evacuation order affecting about 350 residents.
By December, the sinkhole had grown to more than eight acres and is now approaching 15 acres in size, according to John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.
“It has provided a great service to us to be able to plot the growth of the sinkhole over time,” said Boudreaux of the photographs provided by the Civil Air Patrol.
Rappmundt says that CAP has been performing flyovers and taking aerial photographs since September. The pictures have been taken from specific elevations, and flown every seven to 10 days to analyze the size and progression of the sinkhole as it developed.
Chris Guilbeaux, homeland security assistant deputy director of emergency management, agrees that flights and photos provided by Louisiana Wing have been a significant aid in keeping agencies and the public aware of the changing conditions at the sinkhole.
“The ease and dependability of the local Civil Air Patrol have proven to be extremely valuable in monitoring the progress of the sinkhole,” Guilbeaux said.
Not only has the imagery been of valuable service to local government agencies, it has been done at a significantly lower price than if previous methods had been followed, according to Rappmundt.
It costs the state about $120 an hour for a CAP flight to photograph the area, but it would have cost around $500 an hour through state agencies utilizing a fixed wing aircraft, with the price escalating to more than $1,000 an hour if a helicopter is used, said Rappmundt.
State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said utilizing the non-profit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force is the fiscally responsible route to take.
“At a time when most states are struggling financially, Civil Air Patrol is a valuable resource,” Harrison said. “Not only is the state able to receive first class service from dedicated volunteers, but it’s also about a third of the cost of conventional methods we’ve been using. It’s good management from our standpoint.”
Boudreaux warned that no one can predict when the end of this event will take place.
Boudreaux is troubled by the unexpected recent activity of the event. Instead of land and trees sloughing off into the hole, the land on the southern end suddenly began to subside or sink, he said. A 400- to 500-foot section of a berm, or containment levee, went under water as part of a broader subsidence along the southern side of the sinkhole, he said. Trees along the southwest side of the sinkhole also are showing signs of sinking, in some cases as much at 10 feet down, he said.
Texas Brine had been ordered by the Louisiana Office of Conservation to build the containment levee to prevent oil and salty water, or brine, from escaping the sinkhole into the surrounding freshwater swamp.
Boudreaux said that continued CAP flights will be helpful in monitoring the new developments.
Rappmundt said that while the sinkhole has been mainly a state emergency, it has attracted attention nationally. Imaging is sent directly to homeland security and used in “Virtual Louisiana,” a Goggle Earth based program. The photos are posted on Air Force sites to monitor and analyze its progress and used to brief agencies with interest in other salt domes such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Sites, since this is a first of its kind event, he said.
The St. Mary Parish Squadron, which has 15 members and has managed the mission, is based at the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport in Patterson.
Rappmundt said they have utilized crews and aircraft from Baton Rouge and New Orleans squadrons to provide the photos and image processing.
As part of a congressionally chartered, federally-supported volunteer organization, the Louisiana Wing and other wings of the Civil Air Patrol, performs three congressionally assigned missions:
—Emergency services, including search and rescue (by air and ground) and disaster relief operations.
—Aerospace education for youth and the general public.
—Cadet programs for teenage youth.
According to the Louisiana Wing of the Civil Air Patrol website the Louisiana Wing is the 25th largest wing, having nearly 600 members in 2011 and 11 assigned aircraft.