Bayou Corne, LA — Governor Bobby Jindal issued an ultimatum to Texas Brine on Monday: buy out evacuated residents from their homes, or risk losing every permit the state issued it.
Gov. Jindal issued an executive order, telling the state Department of Conservation to investigate Texas Brine's financial condition. Since it has not made any offers after promising to quickly move residents out of their homes, it may not be solvent enough to deserve permits.
"For months, we've been pressuring Texas Brine to step up to the plate and do the right thing," he said. "They are responsible for this sinkhole, they need to clean up the mess they have made, they need to do right by our people."
Bubbling first started between the Grand Bayou and Bayou Corne communities in May 2012. A salt cavern previously operated by Texas Brine collapsed, causing a large sinkhole. On August 3, 2012, roughly 150 homes were placed under a mandatory evacuation order, which remains in place.
On March 14, 2013, Texas Brine agreed to extend settlement offers to any family under the evacuation order. According to the governor's office, 110 residents requested settlement forms as of last Thursday; 102 submitted claim information sheets; and 97 had been inspected. Texas Brine pledged to make offers within 45 days of the inspection. Governor Jindal's office said 66 homes have already gone beyond that deadline, with 19 more to hit that mark by the end of this week.
"They've disrespected our governor, his requests, and that means they disrespected our entire state," said Mike Schaff, a Bayou Corne resident.
When Gov. Jindal first visited the site of the sinkhole in March, he promised to hold Texas Brine accountable. Evacuees were frustrated that he waited so long to make his first appearance there, but liked his message. Monday, many of those evacuees listened to his proclamation and appreciated his tough talk.
"They need to do something," said Betty Thibodaux, "or like the governor said, they need to get out of here if they can't do something."
Gov. Jindal also ordered every state and local agency involved in the sinkhole response to investigate whether Texas Brine is capable of meeting its regulatory obligations. He said he has heard too many of the company's excuses.
"People have been told day after day that buyout offers were coming tomorrow," he noted. "Not one offer has been made. That is completely unacceptable. It has become clear to me that Texas Brine is simply trying to run out the clock."
Texas Brine wrote a letter to the residents of Bayou Corne on Monday. In it, Bruce Martin, the company's Vice President of Operations, said that, "while Texas Brine was prepared to begin making offers ten days ago, our insurance carriers, much to our disappointment, recently informed us that they are not yet prepared to support this process."
Gov. Jindal said Texas Brine's responsibility is no different than that of a person who gets in a car crash. If a driver damages property or another car s/he has to pay for it.
Martin claimed that the company has spent more than $40 million to date on activities related to the sinkhole response, including $4.8 million paid directly to evacuees, but it cannot offer settlements without the financial backing of its insurance carriers.
"Texas Brine will continue to push its excess (insurance) carriers to support the process," Martin continued in the letter," and we will update you as more information becomes available. In the meantime, we hope you understand our position as we continue to address this issue."