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Woods Cross residents voice frustrations with city, refinery



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WOODS CROSS -- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board had it first day of investigations at the Silver Eagle refinery in Woods Cross Thursday. Officials say it could be months before they know exactly what caused Wednesday's explosion.

At a neighborhood meeting in Woods Cross Thursday night, residents decided to band together as one, figuring it will be easier to get answers to tough questions.

Residents raise questions about safety

"How did the city decide it was safe to zone for residential use?" resident Adam Evarts asked.

Evarts said he knew he was buying a house close to the Silver Eagle Refinery, but never knew about a blast zone.

"This blast zone, what is it considered? Because I've never seen anything about it," Evarts said.

Neighbors said they became aware of it after the explosion. Now they want to know why the city would allow development within a blast zone.

"The city did its due diligence in 2002," said Woods Cross Mayor Kent Parry.

Parry said when the city changed the zoning from agricultural to residential seven years ago, they had a report from the developers engineering firm saying it was safe.

"I think that's all we can expect of our city officials to do, is make judgements based on the information that they're given," Parry said.

On Wednesday, Silver Eagle's president talked about blast zones.

"I don't really want to grapple with the city right now. There is terminology in our field where they designate things as blast zones," Dave McSwain said.

KSL News called other Davis County cities to ask about blast zone ordinances. In North Salt Lake, there aren't any, but Flying J owns most of its surrounding land for a buffer zone.

West Bountiful also doesn't have ordinances, but city officials there say they've fought Holly Oil Refinery expansion with zoning laws.

No blast zones in Davis County either, but the Chevron refinery owns all the land surrounding it for a buffer. In fact, Chevron told us they've been approached by developers wanting to buy some of that land, but Chevron turned them down for safety reasons.

Woods Cross residents want to know why land by Silver Eagle was sold.

"I'm really starting to believe the potential profit was more important than potential risk," resident Trina Patterson said.

Damage to homes larger than first thought

During the press conference Thursday night with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an investigator said this is the most off-site damage in a refinery explosion the team has ever seen.

The mayor spent the morning walking with the CSB investigators to get a better idea of how many homes are damaged.

Some residents are still discovering damage. One man who lives a quarter of a mile away from the refinery was out hanging up his Christmas lights Thursday morning when he found cracks running through the stucco outside his home. Other home owners as far as three quarters of a mile away have found broken windows and cracks in their walls from the blast.

"There are at least eight to 10 homes that have some fairly significant damage, some further away that what we would expect that have had load-bearing trusses that have been moved out of alignment in addition to the homes just directly across from the blast," Parry said. "Three, four dozen homes, at least that many homes have superficial damage."

Parry said one of the big concerns they had was that some homes might have internal damage that isn't easily recognized. He spoke with refinery officials Thursday morning and asked that they send building inspectors through all the affected homes to look for problems.

"Most of us wouldn't know necessarily if something is out of place or what the dangers might be," he said.

Though many residents are angry with the city and the refinery, the woman whose home received the most damage said she plans to move back in.

Linda Wood's home had to be condemned after the explosion blew it off its foundation. Still, she said she will rebuild on her lot if the home needs to be knocked down. If it can be fixed, she plans to move back in.

"Everybody thinks I'm crazy, but the neighborhood has been awesome. The people here are awesome. I had, you konw, 150, 200 people come and move me out in one hour yesterday. And I don't think you can ask much more from the community than that," Wood said.

City and refinery working together to help residents

Parry said his city and refinery will have to work together to come up with a long-term plan to ensure the safety of the residents near the refinery. He added the city still hasn't seen the reports from the fire at the refinery that took place in January.

The neighborhoods around the refineries were filled with insurance adjusters Thursday, both from homeowners and form the refinery. A Silver Eagle worker said their priority was to make sure the residents' needs were met. A table with insurance information was set up in the neighborhood closest to the refinery to help people get information.

"I don't blame them. It was a trauma in their life, of course they're going to be nervous about it. And we have been working with the city on that. We will continue to work with them until we come to a solution," says Dave McSwain, president of Silver Eagle Refinery.

Refinery representatives are also helping residents whose homes were severely damaged find temporary apartments. Right now, refinery officials say their sympathies lie with the those residents.

A white powder residue

KSL News has also received reports of people finding a thin layer of powdery dust around the neighborhood. The city and South Davis Metro Fire said the explosion caused a power bump at the other refineries, which in turn caused them to need to burn off a catalyst. That is the powder residents are seeing. Fire department officials said it is inert and not toxic.

Refinery officials said the portion of the plant where the explosion occurred is shut down and will be until the investigation is completed.

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Story compiled with contributions from Alex Cabrero, Randall Jeppesen and Sarah Dallof.

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