BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Seven months after a sinkhole forced the evacuation of 150 homes in swampy Assumption Parish, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Monday that he'll visit the site where nine acres of land have disintegrated into muck.
Jindal said he'll head to the sinkhole site next week. The announcement comes after residents displaced since early August criticized the governor's absence and after local media highlighted Jindal's refusal to say whether he'd check out the state's response efforts in person.
In a new hands-on approach, Jindal visited at the governor's mansion Monday with Assumption Parish leaders and state lawmakers from the area to discuss the work to stabilize the site. They also discussed concerns about the threat of a new sinkhole developing in the area.
Scientists say the sinkhole formed after the failure of an underground salt cavern operated by a Houston-based firm, Texas Brine Co. LLC, which extracted brine and piped it to nearby petrochemical facilities. The cavern failure released oil and natural gas from formations along the salt dome face.
Jindal said he's meeting Wednesday with officials from the company to push for buyouts for the evacuated families.
"It's time for Texas Brine to step up and do the right thing for the people in Bayou Corne," Jindal said in a statement.
The sinkhole opened up in August near a community along Bayou Corne, a sparsely populated area of swampland about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge.
Officials issued an evacuation order to about 350 people living in the area that has remained in effect for more than seven months, with no immediate end in sight.
Jindal had repeatedly said he's received regular updates from his agency chiefs about the state's ongoing response efforts to the sinkhole.
But the governor — considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate — hadn't made the hour-long trip to see the damage and meet with residents, even as he traveled the nation for Republican campaigns, fundraisers and speeches.
A spokesman didn't immediately respond Monday to a question about why the governor waited so long to visit the sinkhole site.
No buyouts have been offered to Bayou Corne residents so far, with Texas Brine officials saying they are focused on immediate response efforts. Some residents have filed lawsuits against the company.
Bruce Martin, vice president of operations for Texas Brine, told lawmakers recently that the company expects to have the site fully contained by April.
But worries have arisen about another nearby cavern owned by Texas Brine that is closer to the edge of the salt dome than originally thought. Jindal said state agency leaders have drawn up a response plan in case it's needed.
"According to the Department of Natural Resources, there are no data at this time to suggest a failure is occurring or that a failure is imminent. But, we are not taking anything for granted," the governor said.
The natural resources department is running tests on the second Texas Brine cavern to determine its risk of collapse, and Jindal said the agency will have more data by the end of April about the cavern's structural integrity.
The second cavern is close to a main highway running through the parish. Jindal's office said the transportation department has come up with detour plans if the road is threatened and would consider rerouting and rebuilding the highway further north if needed.
MAY 21 Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos writes about the Mother's Day shooting, and how the stages of shock and blame and healing mirror those traveled by the same city following Hurricane Katrina. The city will recover, just as it did following the storm, by reaching out to help the people injured most seriously by the event, DuBos writes. It's how we heal, he says.
MAY 21 Here's a post on the Advocate (but buried on a subpage, not on the front) that reports something Louisiana Voice reported some time ago: a top DOE official lives in Los Angeles and "commutes" to Baton Rouge. The positioning of the story caused a stir on Facebook Monday, with several posters asking if the Advocate was covering someone's hiney. Sentell's stories on DOE are notoriously soft, and this one is no different: don't expect any hard questions in here.
MAY 21 Here's another post from blogger Tom Aswell about the "course choice" program. He's already reported on kids being signed up without their consent or knowledge, and has more here: For example, he tells of a six-year-old who was signed up for high school Latin. He also digs a little deeper into the sister companies of the main one operating in Louisiana; all of them seem to have complaints against them. Stinky.
MAY 21 Given the 80 percent cut in higher ed funding since he's been in office, it's clear Gov. Jindal would rather give tax cuts to out of state companies than have a functioning system, blogger Dayne Sherman argues in this post. The cuts have been such a disaster, Sherman says, that it will take 30 years to fix what's been broken. He says he believes the aim is to shut down most of the schools before Jindal leaves in 2016.
MAY 21 Blogger CB Forgotston says there are too many elections in Louisiana, and they're costing us too much money. The proof is in the pudding: turnout for most of these nonsensical pollings gets worse and worse, CB opines, even as millions of dollars that could be spent on health care or higher ed go down the tubes. The legislature must take action to stem the tide of pointless elections, he says.
MAY 21 Here's an interesting investigative piece by WVUE on the retirement benefits of some Jefferson Parish public employees. According to the story, the taxpayers are paying 100 percent of the retirement contributions of employees who started work prior to a certain date in April 1986 -- and have done for more than 30 years. It costs the parish millions annually, and might not be legal, the story reports.
MAY 21 This post on Bayou Buzz provides insight from Louisiana's intrepid pollster, Bernie Pinsonat, on the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. But to hear Bernie tell it, there's almost nuttin but losers: Jindal, the Republican party, the Fiscal Hawks all get big goose eggs in his win column.
MAY 20 This post on The Lens takes a look at a huge (either $500K or $250K) bill that one NOLA charter now has for school lunches. The RSD says the charter group didn't fill out the proper paperwork for federal reimbursement, but the story details how the RSD didn't ensure the people running the charter had the proper training, despite requests from hapless charter employees trying to fill out forms. Either way, somebody's asleep at the wheel.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.