Federal judge OKs $48.1 million settlement for residents affected by Louisiana sinkhole



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NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge Wednesday granted final approval of a $48.1 million class-action settlement for Louisiana residents affected by a sinkhole that opened two years ago has been swallowing land ever since.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey said there were no objections to the settlement, which will compensate 269 people who lived in the Assumption Parish community of Bayou Corne. A spokesman, Texas Brine, the company that was operating a salt mine that's believed to have caused the sinkhole, said some 88 families were involved with the settlement that ends all liability and dismisses all claims against the company from the class action lawsuit.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1ywEtNJ) claimants will be paid replacement costs for property they sell to Texas Brine. They will also receive a second payment for damages.

The exact amounts will be determined by Special Master Shelby Easterly.

The sinkhole is now nearly 37 acres and, according to a survey about two weeks ago, its depth measurement was at 271 feet.

"Texas Brine believes that the settlement is a fair and adequate resolution and it was negotiated with experienced, well-qualified class counsel," said Millard "Sonny" Cranch, a spokesman for Texas Brine.

Easterly said that he would contact claimants with their individual allocation for damages within 60 days. They would then have 30 days to object.

Based on that schedule, attorneys for the residents said people could expect to receive checks for damages by December. They said property settlements will be finalized throughout the fall.

"Assistance payments will continue to be paid until each property is closed, just as we did with our direct settlements," Cranch said.

The settlement is in addition to buyouts that Texas Brine has directly conducted with the owners of 66 other properties in the evacuation area. The last of those buyouts was closed March 21.

Zainey also awarded 25 percent of the settlement to plaintiffs' attorneys.

As for the sinkhole, Cranch said it is showing signs of stabilizing since it started at 490 feet.

Scientists have said they believe the sinkhole was caused by a Texas Brine-operated salt dome cavern that was mined too close to the outer face of the massive salt deposit. That led to a breach in the underground cavity that shifted surrounding rock and led to the sinkhole's formation in mid-2012 in the swamps near the 350-person Bayou Corne area.


Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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