BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday ordered the state's conservation commissioner to review all permits issued to Texas Brine Co., the operator of a collapsed salt dome in Assumption Parish that authorities say caused a 15-acre sinkhole and an ongoing evacuation order for 350 people.
Jindal traveled to Bayou Corne to announce the executive order, saying the company has been slow to respond to residents seeking buyouts or other settlements. He said company officials have missed several deadlines in which they promised action.
The review seeks to determine whether Texas Brine's permits should be "modified, revoked and reissued, or terminated," based on the company's current financial condition and its ability to meet its regulatory obligations, according to Jindal's office.
"It has become clear that Texas Brine is trying to run out the clock on the citizens of Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou by hiding behind insurance companies, lawyers and lobbyists. That is unacceptable," Jindal said in a written statement. "Texas Brine is responsible for the sinkhole, and they need to clean up the mess they've made and do right by the people of Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou by issuing long overdue settlement offers."
Jindal also said local agencies involved in the sinkhole response should determine "whether Texas Brine remains capable of meeting its regulatory obligations."
The sinkhole, discovered in August, is in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou area, located about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge.
According to a state official, Houston-based Texas Brine has 15 permitted operations in the state, some of which go back to the mid-1970s.
In a letter addressed to Bayou Corne residents, a company official apologized for settlement delays, saying they were prepared to make offers 10 days ago, but that their insurance carriers have not approved the action.
"Because we have not received their final approval, we are, at this time, unable to make offers within the timeframe initially indicated," wrote Bruce Martin, vice president for operations.
Martin said Texas Brine has spent more than $40 million on response activities, including more than $4.8 million to residents as part of the community evacuation assistance program.
According to Jindal's office, Texas Brine has indicated that 110 residents have requested settlement forms; 102 residents have submitted claim information sheets; 97 properties have been inspected; and five properties remain to be inspected.
Texas Brine had committed to issuing settlement offers within 45 days of property inspections. On Monday, 66 inspected properties have reached the 45-day window and 85 properties will be on the 45th day since inspection on Friday, according to Jindal's office.
"We've heard every excuse in the book, and enough is enough. Texas Brine needs to offer settlements to the residents who want them, and their failure to do so brings into serious question the company's ability to operate in Louisiana moving forward," the governor said.