Friday, August 17, 2012

Sinking In

The big news around here recently has been a 400 foot deep sinkhole in nearby Assumption Parish. Residents of the parish had been concerned about natural gas bubbling up from below the surface of Bayou Corne since June. Then, in July, a sinkhole opened up. An evacuation was ordered on August 3. For a while there were concerns about radioactivity, although word now is that the radiation is not above background levels. 

The sinkhole is near a salt cavern owned by the Texas Brine company, who are supposed to go in and investigate whether the cavern has been breached. A similar breach was caused by faulty drilling on Jefferson Island in the 1970’s. The breach wiped out the Diamond Crystal Salt Factory and changed the salinity and ecosystem of Lake Peigneur.

Texas Brine says their salt cavern was plugged and abandoned in 2011 but they will investigate and see if there is a problem. It is going to take around 40 days to drill to the cavern.

Yesterday, two cleanup workers went into the area by boat. They tied the boat to a cypress tree. Suddenly, the area around the tree dropped 40 feet, taking the boat with it. The workers were able to get the attention of others in the area and were rescued by airboat.

Salt caverns are often used for storage. 940,000 gallons of butane are being stored in a cavern only 2000 feet from the sinkhole. If the sinkhole expands far enough to breach the cavern, it could cause a massive explosion.

Did I mention all this is happening less than 50 miles from my house?

I say that’s the big news around here, but actually two other stories have captured even more interest. One is the murder of two sheriff’s deputies further downriver in LaPlace.

But this being Baton Rouge and this being August, the biggest news is that one of LSU’s best football players, a former Heisman Trophy finalist nicknamed the Honey Badger, has been thrown off the team. He had been suspended for a few games last year after testing positive for use of synthetic marijuana. It transpired he had not learned his lesson and had failed a few other drug tests.

Rumors flew. The young man was definitely going to transfer to McNeese University, a small college that plays in a lower division, meaning he wouldn’t have to sit out a year. How fair that was to the presumably behaving students already enrolled was a subject of hot debate. Then it was no, not McNeese, but Nichols State.

For the last two days, the news was that Honey Badger was prepared to stay at LSU as a student if he could be given a chance to try out for the team again next year. The coach was not in agreement. It may have been sinking in that time spent trying to keep one player out of trouble was time not available for other aspects of coaching.

I kind of feel for student athletes who get into trouble through stupid decision making. For most students, college is a time of experimentation. Some students can use drugs, flunk classes, get pregnant, drop out, drop in, and still have time to straighten up and make something of their lives and then pretend to their children that they were paragons of virtue. For students in competitive programs like pre-law and pre-med, this is less likely to be true. For student athletes, who have a set period of eligibility and who are competing for an even smaller number of professional jobs, it is even harder to overcome bad decisions. 

On the other hand, I understand why it is not advisable to cut these students even more slack. College athletics are big time business, and the temptation to cheat is overwhelming. Any kind of flexibility can be exploited and will be. I don’t blame the coach for taking a hard line. If anything, he maybe should have taken it sooner.

Last night, a new story made the rounds. Honey Badger is not going to Nichols or McNeese. He’s not even staying on at LSU in the fall. He is in a drug rehab program in Houston, hoping to return to LSU as a student in the spring. He has garnered a lot of respect for taking this step.

It’s hard to know which young persons can experiment with drugs and then move on and which ones will fall into the sinkhole of addiction. Like the news out of Assumption Parish, this is a developing situation.

I hope this young man tied his boat to the right tree. 

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