BAYOU CORNE — In two metal storage buildings purchased during property buyouts, Texas Brine Co. holds the household possessions that families displaced in the nearly three-year sinkhole ordeal left behind on their way to new lives.
Like flotsam on the beach after the tide has departed, a mishmash of items has been collected inside the sheds on Sauce Piquante and Gumbo streets in Bayou Corne. It might make sense to discard some of it, but in other cases, it would be a waste.
The discarded possessions include refrigerators; stoves; washers and dryers too old or too big to move; piles of plastic gas cans and partially used paint cans not worth the trouble; a power scooter for the infirm; and a teddy bear dressed in pajamas, one of several stuffed animals in a cardboard box.
Left with those and various other possessions workers gathered after cleaning out homes Texas Brine and its insurers purchased because of the nearby swampland sinkhole, company officials say they are trying to find new uses for what they can.
Enter Kathern Green and Jason Wymer, drivers for the Habitat ReStore operation in Baton Rouge.
Run by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge, the store sells reused items and construction materials and has raised $6 million over 11 years to build Habitat homes for needy families, Habitat officials said. The reuse efforts also have prevented 3,000 tons of materials from going in the landfill.
Texas Brine officials have agreed to donate whatever officials with the Habitat ReStore outlet in Baton Rouge want.
“We strongly support the work that Habitat for Humanity does for communities across the United States,” Sonny Cranch, Texas Brine spokesman, said in a statement published in Habitat’s monthly newsletter last month.
Green and Wymer showed up at the Sauce Piquante shed Wednesday morning to pick up the last of three loads in recent weeks.
A washer, dryer, refrigerator, infant’s crib, entertainment center, television and other items went into the back of their truck, headed back to the Habitat ReStore at Plank Road and Airline Highway.
Green, 64, said the trip to Bayou Corne is a short one for Wymer and him. They’ve traveled to Mississippi, New Orleans and elsewhere to pick up discarded items from businesses, contractors and others.
“If it’s worth picking up, we go get it,” Green said.
Lynn Clark, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge, said ReStore received dozens of appliances and furniture and rarely receives so many large appliance of such quality. They sold quickly — in some cases, as they were being removed from the delivery truck. By Friday, all but the refrigerator in Wednesday’s load had been sold.
State scientists say past salt dome mining by Texas Brine near Bayou Corne triggered the sinkhole in August 2012 and unleashed flammable methane gas that poses a risk to residents in the Assumption Parish community. In ongoing litigation, Texas Brine has pointed to past oil drilling as at least a contributing factor, claims other companies and the state dispute.
Though a few chose to remain in Bayou Corne, the sinkhole and the risks from the methane brought about home buyouts for many others while Texas Brine has burned the gas. The company says the gas continues to diminish.
Clark said it’s “very conflicting” to be selling items left from families displaced by the sinkhole, but at the same time, she said, those items aid Habitat for Humanity’s mission of providing “simple, decent housing” and helping people escape poverty.
Habitat builds 15 to 20 homes per year with the help of volunteers.
“We really feel for all of the homeowners,” Clark said. “On the other hand, we’re taking that very unfortunate situation and making it a positive by saving the materials they no longer could use to help other families.”
Abbie LeGleu Hue, 34, and her husband, Jason Hue, 36, are among those who accepted buyouts and moved away with their now 9-year-old daughter, Mollie. The Hues for a time lived in a recreational vehicle but now have a new home in Pierre Part.
“At this point, if the items were left, at least it will be donated to something worthwhile,” Abbie Hue said in a Facebook message Friday.
“I(’d) much rather see the items be donated to a worthy cause than the company make money off of it.”
Carla Alleman, 53, also was bought out and was recently among those who raised questions in federal court about how plaintiffs’ attorneys and a special master in a class-action lawsuit handled some buyouts.
A judge sided with the lawyers, but Alleman said the way the buyouts and the terms of departure were handled was haphazard, leaving some residents with little time to get out and move all of the possessions they wanted to take. The lawyers have disputed such claims.
Still, she said, once people settle into a new home, they move on, and the things left behind are part of a time and place in the past.
“I think it’s a good idea,” she said of the donations Friday. “What else can be done with it? Why should it go waste?”
Even with Habitat ReStore’s three loads, many things remained in Texas Brine’s storage sheds last week. Whatever Texas Brine can’t find a way to donate will have to be disposed of properly, Cranch said.
Habitat’s Clark said Texas Brine officials have said they would allow Habitat ReStore to take salvageable construction materials once the company starts dismantling homes. ReStore also sells those materials.
Texas Brine officials have said they are considering turning the bought-out homes into “green space.”
In a company statement, though, Cranch was unable to say what the company’s plans will be for the vacated part of the community.
“Currently, there are no firm plans regarding the removal of structures from the properties we have acquired,” he said. “Discussions remain ongoing with all parties involved in this process.”
For Alleman, who says she has closed the door on the sinkhole, home demolitions can’t come soon enough. Alleman lives in Pierre Part with her husband, Grady, also 53, and drives a bus route during the school year to Assumption High School in Napoleonville.
“I have to pass there every day, back and forth, in front of my old house,” Alleman said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.