For its moss-draped cypress, tucked away cabins and water reflections that could slay the Greek hunter Narcissus, Bayou Corne has long been a place where people can go a while without hearing a single word.
“The water’s still nice, and the trees are still green,” said Dennis Landry, who has lived there for about 12 years. “The gators are still lurking. The egrets are still catching fish.”
But ever since the sinkhole of Aug. 3, 2012, the small Assumption Parish community has been quiet for a different reason. What was once home to roughly 350 people now has a population slightly more than a dozen.
“We have the stigma of the sinkhole hanging over us,” Landry said.
The collapse of a nearby underground salt cavern sent crude oil and methane gas upward, while ancient sediment and trees began a 750-foot drop. Governor Bobby Jindal ordered residents to evacuate, as responders spent late nights trying to clean and investigate the scene. When parish officials lifted the evacuation in 2016, many evacuees never returned.
“The saddest thing for me is the loss of the people who were living here,” said Landry. “We lost all those neighbors. They were all good friends.”
Texas Brine, the company operating the failed cavern, agreed to buy out residents who no longer wanted to live there. Some feared more sinkholes would come. Others claimed they wanted to cut their losses, as property values had fallen with the land itself.
Those still on the bayou argue they will never be able to sell their homes.
“I have a three-bedroom brick home that was probably worth the neighborhood odf $300,000,” said resident Bob Deaton. “It’s now unsalable.”
Like others who chose not to evacuate after the sinkhole, Deaton received a series of weekly $875 checks. The compensation, in his case, totaled roughly $9,000. He is fighting for more, which remains a legal challenge.
“[Texas Brine] has taken the position that, because they paid weekly disaster and evacuation assistance, that they don’t owe us anything — that they’ve already paid,” he said.
Texas Brine maintains that its actions alone did not cause the sinkhole. The company insists that a well drilled in 1986 by Occidental Chemical is to blame. Earlier this year, a Louisiana district judge found Texas Brine 35 percent at fault for the 2012 collapse, with Occidental 50 percent liable and Vulcan Materials 15 percent responsible.
In a statement marking six years since the sinkhole formed, Texas Brine maintains that they have spent more than $150 million in response efforts.
“Texas Brine has a long history in Louisiana, and we look forward to operating in operating in Assumption Parish for years to come,” a company spokesperson wrote. “We remain actively involved in the community and will do our very best to be a good corporate neighbor.”
But with dozens of abandoned homes being demolished through this fall — and little hope of new residential construction — Landry questions whether he will someday have even fewer neighbors. Still, he doesn’t regret his choice to stay.
“This is a hard place to replace,” he said. “I thought immediately, if we evacuate here and leave, we’ll never find a place directly on the bayou, directly on the water as beautiful as this is. I wasn’t willing to give up my sportsman’s paradise here at Bayou Corne.”
John Boudreaux, who directs the Assumption Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said concerns of more sinkholes remain. He hopes new monitoring technology and procedures will limit the threat in the years to come.
“It’s changed me, and it’s changed the culture in Assumption Parish,” he said. “Now things are quiet. Hopefully it stays that way.”