Friday, November 6, 2009

Refinery vows to pay for damage to homes caused by explosion

home insurance

A day after the Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross exploded, the company took responsibility for the damage.

Officials told nearby residents their homes would be repaired, the company would pay to fix houses blown off their foundations and replace shattered windows and doors knocked off their hinges.

"We are here to make sure that all the residents' needs are met," said Annalys Wilson, an insurance adjustor working for the company. "Our representatives have been out in the neighborhood letting them know that we are eager to help."

The adjustors from Silver Eagle's insurance company, though, weren't the only ones working with the neighbors around the refinery.

Adjustors from the companies that provided homeowners insurance policies also were there, along with a team of five investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. The investigators walked the neighborhoods assessing the damage and met with plant officials in preparation for a government investigation into the blast.

Brittany Bennett, whose home had five windows blown out by the explosion and her front door damaged, said repairs already were under way on the entryway, thanks to representatives from her homeowners insurance company who arrived early Thursday morning.

"The front door is being fixed today," she said. "Two of the windows are supposed to be fixed on Friday. The other three windows will have to be special ordered, so it will take a couple of weeks for them."

"I just hope they are true to their word," she said, indicating that Silver Eagle's insurer has promised that it would even cover any deductible payment that might be required under her homeowners policy.

"Those whose homes were damaged can file their claims through us or through their own homeowners insurance company -- whatever they are most comfortable doing," Wilson said.

The Silver Eagle Refinery, the smallest of five refineries in the area, was built in 1954 when there was little development nearby. The subdivision that suffered the most damage was constructed approximately six years ago after the Woods Cross City Council determined there was little risk.

"That property was zoned for residential development long before I even moved to Woods Cross, which was 18 years ago," said Kent Parry, the city's mayor. "I'm sure the council did its homework."

Parry, however, said when the landowner was requesting permission to build the subdivision, the council commissioned an engineering study to look at the potential risk of building homes so close to the refinery.

Although that study identified potential problems, the council members eventually accepted an alternative study prepared by an engineering firm hired by the developer, Parry said.

"It repudiated the findings of the first study and raised questions about the methodology used."

The mayor said Woods Cross officials will be following the government's investigation, and he hopes to work with Silver Eagle officials to come up with a strategy to ensure the safety of nearby residents.

Donald Holmstrom, the investigation supervisor from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, speaking at a news conference Thursday evening, said the government's investigation will uncover the explosion's root cause with the goal of ensuring that such an incident will not be repeated. But he said the investigation also could examine the issue of zoning around the Silver Eagle and the proximity of homes.

The issue of having a refinery or other type of plant that could suffer a toxic fire or explosion and damage a surrounding community is not a new one.

There are no industry standards, however, that say, "Homes should be built X number of yards away from a refinery," said Ron Chittim of the American Petroleum Institute. "It really has to be looked at on an individual basis," he said. "The siting of the processing units at each individual facility is different."

Woods Cross resident Linda Wood, whose home was knocked off its foundation, said she knew there was a risk buying a home near the refinery, but she didn't believe it would be a problem.

"My folks have lived in the Rose Park area since 1974, not too far from a refinery, and their property was never damaged by an explosion," she said. "I knew the [Silver Eagle] refinery was there when I bought my home. I just wish they'd stop blowing it up."