Commissioner of Conservation Warns Texas Brine of Potential Penalties If Full Assistance Not Paid To Residents
No formal notice from company of intent to comply or appeal order
BATON ROUGE – Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh announced today that Texas Brine may face fines of up to $5,000 a day, or take further enforcement action, if the company does not indicate its intention to cooperate with the enforcement order issued last week requiring immediate payment of assistance to Bayou Corne residents under an evacuation order, including retroactive payments dating back to the original evacuation order.
The original Texas Brine permit for the brine cavern operation located closest to the sinkhole discovered on the property operated by Texas Brine on Aug. 3 requires the operator, in the event of development of a sinkhole and an evacuation, to provide assistance for residents in areas deemed to be at immediate potential risk.
Texas Brine had agreed to provide assistance to evacuees prospectively beginning Aug. 17, however, the Office of Conservation maintains that does not meet the guidelines of the company’s original permit application, prompting Welsh to issue an enforcement order last week that required the assistance provided by Texas Brine to be retroactive to the initial Aug. 3 evacuation order issued by Assumption Parish.
Though a spokesman for the company is quoted in a media account published last week as saying Texas Brine would comply with the order, the assistance payments offered to residents on Thursday, six days after the Commissioner’s order, did not include assistance retroactive to the original evacuation date. Texas Brine has yet to give the Office of Conservation any formal notice of intent to comply with the order or appeal it.
Failure to comply with such an enforcement order by the Commissioner of Conservation can mean fines of up to $5,000 a day for each day of noncompliance by the company, possibly including the days that have already passed since the order was given, and further actions at the discretion of the Commissioner of Conservation.
“This company made certain guarantees to the state and its people when it was allowed to operate in Louisiana, and we intend to ensure Texas Brine meets those commitments in assisting impacted residents as was originally agreed to when its operations were permitted,” Welsh said.
Local officials joined the call for Texas Brine to comply with the order given to the company last week.
“Texas Brine still seems unable to fully grasp the idea that the clock started ticking on the company’s responsibility to provide assistance for affected residents on the day the evacuation order went into effect – and that is a responsibility Texas Brine committed to in getting the original permit approved,” said Assumption Parish President Martin Triche. “This is not an appropriate situation for Texas Brine to delay action or nitpick on the terms of the commitment made to this community.”
Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said, “The residents currently under an evacuation order deserve to know that Texas Brine intends to honor the agreement it made when the company began operating here or to know the reason why Texas Brine refuses to do so, but I cannot imagine any good reason for refusing our citizens the assistance that was promised.”
Texas Brine’s original permit application, as approved, specifically makes provisions for assistance during an evacuation following the development of a sinkhole near the company’s operation, regardless of whether the company’s actions were the direct cause.
The “Catastrophic Subsidence Prevention” section of the application includes a provision stating that, if a sinkhole forms near the company’s operation, regardless of cause, the company will take steps that include assisting affected residents.
The agreement further states that, in the event of sinkhole formation, “if the area of collapse appears to threaten any residences, the occupants will be assisted if evacuation is required.”
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