44 property owners at sinkhole accept settlements

NAPOLEONVILLE, La. — Nearly half of a group of residents evacuated because of an Assumption Parish sinkhole have accepted buyout offers from Texas Brine Co.

As of Monday’s 5:30 p.m. deadline, company spokesman Sonny Cranch said 44 of 92 offers delivered to property owners around the sinkhole at Bayou Corne have accepted out-of-court settlements. Cranch did not provide details of settlement amounts, but said each offer was based on the individual property.

“These properties range from trailer homes to small frame dwellings to larger, bricked dwellings. But we’ve strived to offer fair and equitable settlements with each owner,” he said.

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

Cranch said 41 residents have said they’d like to continue direct negotiations with Texas Brine even though the deadline for negotiations has passed. He said the Houston-based company has asked U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey to extend the deadline for direct negotiations with those residents until July 31.

The judge has not yet ruled on the request. If Zainey rejects it, Cranch said the company could still negotiate but the property owners would have to be represented by an attorney.

For those who have reached a settlement with Texas Brine, Cranch said the next step would be closing the deals. “We anticipate this process should take approximately 30 to 45 days for each respective resident in order to properly prepare all closing and legal documents,” he said.

The sinkhole, discovered in August, is in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou area of Assumption Parish, about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge. It has resulted in an ongoing evacuation order for about 150 homes in the area.

The evacuated residents will continue to receive their $875 a week evacuation assistance until the settlements officially close, Cranch said. The company agreed to evacuation assistance in the event of a sinkhole when the state permitted the salt cavern in 1982.

A salt dome is a large, naturally occurring underground salt deposit. Companies drill on the dome’s outskirts to create caverns to extract brine used in the petrochemical refining process, or for storage of such things as hydrocarbons, which the age-harden salt prevents from seeping into the ground.