Some sinkhole residents take buyouts

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A third of a group of residents evacuated because of an Assumption Parish sinkhole have accepted buyout offers from Texas Brine Co.

Company spokesman Sonny Cranch says that as of noon Sunday, 33 of 91 people have taken out-of-court settlements in advance of a 5:30 p.m. today deadline.

Residents and Houston-based Texas Brine have until then, under a judge’s order, to reach agreements. After that, residents will need lawyers to negotiate with the company in a lawsuit pending in New Orleans federal court.

Cranch says the company would like to extend the deadline for negotiations without a lawyer.

About 350 Bayou Corne residents have faced evacuation orders since the salt dome cavern collapsed almost 11 months ago. Texas Brine made settlement offers to residents who haven’t yet hired a lawyer.

The company has been under pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal and others to buy out residents who want to leave.

Lorna Prudhomme, 70, an evacuated Bayou Corne resident and a retired Baton Rouge-area real estate agent, told said her agreement left several key details unsettled, such as when to vacate and what items can go.

Prudhomme declined to disclose what she has been offered. She said she and her husband felt the appraisal for their home is fair but they are not entirely pleased with the total offer, which includes additional money over the appraised value.

Cranch said the additional money is designed to settle any other claims.

Prudhomme said the ages of her and her husband — he is 76 — and their slipping health this past year led them to accept anyway.

“There are many older residents who do not have the time to be involved in a feisty, lengthy court battle as time is not on their side,” she wrote in an email.

The company’s drive to reach settlements comes as the sinkhole — now a 22.4-acre opening underneath floodwaters inside containment levees surrounding a 82-acre swath of swamp — emitted more tremors and another burp about 10 p.m. Thursday

John Boudreaux, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said his office received calls late Thursday night about a petroleum odor that signaled the onset of burp activity. Increasing tremors this week also pointed to a possible burp.

He said an emulsified mix of crude oil and debris that sometimes comes up with burps also surfaced in the sinkhole. Parish video shows it is hemmed in by retardant boom.

A newly released depth survey shows the hole has grown by 3.1 acres since the last survey in mid-May.

This new survey was made three days after containment levees were overtopped with rising swamp waters following heavy rain in early June. The levee has since been patched, though plans are being made to relocate it.

Since the sinkhole emerged, Texas Brine has paid residents under the evacuation order a total of $5.5 million in weekly assistance payments, or about $40,250 per residence, whether or not people have moved out, Cranch said.

The company agreed to evacuation assistance in the event of a sinkhole when the state permitted the cavern in 1982.

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