BAYOU CORNE, La. — More than four years since a massive sinkhole swallowed trees in Assumption Parish and forced more than 300 residents from their homes officials say it now no longer poses a risk to the public.

Assumption Parish officials declared Friday that they’ve completely lifted the remaining voluntary evacuation orders in the last parts of the Bayou Corne community where the few residents left had remained. Officials said risk from instability and seeping, flammable natural gas released in the sinkhole’s formation have been mitigated.

“Through the preponderance of evidence, the area has been deemed no longer at risk due to the sinkhole and gas associated with its creation,” parish officials said in a statement.

The Advocate reports ( ) the all-clear order had been coming for months. In June, the parish dropped mandatory evacuation orders to voluntary evacuations.

The sinkhole was discovered in 2012 in Bayou Corne about 30 miles northwest of Thibodaux. It grew from about one acre to about 35 acres. For a time, the sinkhole swallowed whole trees but eventually its growth slowed and has largely stabilized in recent years.

The methane gas released in the sinkhole’s formation, however, remained an ever-present risk to residents.

Texas Brine was deemed the responsible party after one of its underground salt dome caverns had been tied to the sinkhole’s formation by state experts. Texas Brine and its insurers bought out much of the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities, and lawsuits were filed.

Dennis Landry, who owns vacation cabins and a boat launch in Bayou Corne, said he is happy to see the order lifted.

“I can’t speak for everybody here, but I think people are ready. I think they’re ready for that evacuation order to be lifted. I think most of them feel like it’s time, enough time has passed,” Landry said.

Texas Brine, which has pressed for more than year to remove the evacuation orders, welcomed the parish’s decision, saying it was glad to see state and local officials agree with the company that its “response priorities have been satisfied and that the sinkhole does not pose a risk to Bayou Corne.”

Texas Brine, in its statement, reiterated its position that the sinkhole was not the company’s fault. Still, Landry said, he would like to see Texas Brine continue to monitor the sinkhole.

Landry echoed the sentiment of the parish Police Jury, which in August adopted a resolution asking the state Office of Conservation to hold Texas Brine to previous promises for additional testing and monitoring after the evacuation order was lifted.

But on Friday, Commissioner Richard Ieyoub, after considering the resolution and asking Texas Brine to respond to it, relieved the company of many of its monitoring requirements.

Patrick Courreges, spokesman for the Office of Conservation and state Department of Natural Resources, said data show the risk from methane has been minimized to the extent the gas can be practically removed. The swamp area also naturally has gas bubbles.

Information from: The Advocate,

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