Evacuees in Bayou Corne frustrated with wait for payments

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POSTED: Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 5:50pm

UPDATED: Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 7:12pm

People living in the Bayou Corne area began the process of signing up for retroactive payment from Texas Brine Evacuee Assistance fund.

Those who live in the area are frustrated with the long wait for reimbursement.

According to the Texas Brine Company each household who evacuated during the first two weeks after the sinkhole will get $125 per evacuation day. Many people couldn't afford to leave before the company handed out it's first rounds off assistance checks mid August. Now evacuee's say the company is not being fair.

"Anything can happen the situation is so sketchy no information is giving out there is a lot of people who are frustrated over everything," said Bayou Corne resident Jennifer Gregoire.

People living in Bayou Corne say they've lived in limbo for over a month waiting to see how much longer they'll have to live away from their home.

Assumption parish officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for the area on August 3. Many people have stayed out of town ever since.

Evacuee's were asked to sign extra paper work Thursday in order to sign up for "retroactive" payment. The money is supposed to help cover expenses from the first two weeks of the evacuation August 3 to August 16.

"I didn't ask to be pushed out of my house it was them doing their damage ," said evacuee Duane Bier.

Bier said the money being offered may not be enough to cover expenses.

"I don't know where they are staying in hotels and motels, but every one that I've been staying in is costing some where around $75 to $110 a night," said Bier.

Texas Brine Company says those who didn't leave their homes during the first two weeks of the evacuation don't qualify for the extra money, but evacuee's say that's not fair to all residents.

Texas Brine Company says they are still a while away from reaching the top of the brine cavern. Crews have begun directionally drilling through part of the salt dome.

Evacuees say they just want the truth from leaders, but they are not getting any answers.

"…could walk to one of the officials and ask 'would you be here?' [They say]
I'm sorry, I can't answer that question," said Gregoire. "It's a yes or no question. How hard is that?"

All residents can do is to wait for word it's safe to return home.

"I have a deal for someone with the company," said Bier. "They can live in a hotel room or at the gymnasium at a school and give me the keys to their house. We'll both be pleased as punch because I don't like gymnasiums and I don't like hotel rooms."

On Thursday, Sept. 13, in addition to their weekly assistance payment, those households qualifying for retroactive evacuee assistance for the period of August 3-16 will receive the appropriate lump-sum distribution.

Texas Brine says the company will continue to give out normally scheduled weekly assistance checks for all people living in the evacuation zone for as long as the evacuation order is in place. The company says people receiving a weekly check have the decision whether or not to leave the area. The money provided is supposed to allow people the opportunity to evacuate if they so choose.

Bayou Corne community activist Dennis Landry, released the following statement about the retroactive payments:

"Today when I went pick up my assistance check; I was upset to learn that Texas Brine was trying to 'wiggle' out of paying everyone the two weeks 'backpay' as called for by the requirements of their original permit application agreed to many years ago....at least that is my understanding as of right now.

"As a local business man, I am not worried about myself. I've been fortunate and I've always been able to save for 'rainy days.' However, I am very concerned about friends and neighbors who could not evacuate during the first two weeks because they did not have the extra funds available to go out and rent a hotel room !!

"I can't believe that Texas Brine now wants to draw a distinction between those who did evacuate during the first two weeks and those who did not! It is pretty 'cheap' on their part to try and 'nickel and dime' the folks who really need the help."

Texas Brine released a statement Wednesday about why the extra paperwork was necessary:

"Although Assumption Parish officials provided a list of 53 households whose residents evacuated following the issuance of the order, there were other households in which several, but not all members evacuated and, therefore, may not have been included on the list provided by the parish."

NBC33 spoke with Assumption Parish Emergency Officials on Thursday, Sept. 6. Leaders say they only provided Texas Brine with a list of over 150 homes that were in the mandatory evacuation zone.

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