Husky officials meet with concerned residents
In an event resembling a science fair, Husky Energy officials and government agencies set up tables and poster boards full of information about the cleanup and response to the refinery's April 26 fire in the Superior Middle School event center Tuesday night.
The public meeting gave citizens a chance to ask lingering questions and share their concerns with officials, according to Refinery Manager Kollin Schade.
"We're going to do our best to understand what the concerns of the citizens are and move forward," Schade said.
In an interview with media before the event, Schade affirmed that Husky is examining the future use of hydrogen fluoride at the refinery and that opposition to the use of the chemical from citizens and the mayors of Superior and Duluth were being taken into account.
Breathing in hydrogen fluoride, which is used as an additive to make gasoline, at high levels, or in combination with skin contact, can cause death from an irregular heartbeat or from fluid buildup in the lungs. The gas can also cause blindness by rapid destruction of the corneas. Safer replacements, like sulfuric acid, exist, but no refinery has ever switched to that from hydrogen fluoride. The April fire burned within 200 feet of the tank containing the dangerous gas.
Prior to the event, about 12 people stood outside the school calling on the refinery to get rid of hydrogen fluoride and demanding Husky pay for Superior Water Light and Power's proposed rate hike. The Superior Telegram reported last week that a loss of net income due the explosion is being factored into a rate request SWL&P filed with the Public Service Commission.
The group made no demonstration once inside.
One of the protesters, Chris Mrozinski of Duluth, held a sign outside the school that read "We are Superior, not Huskyville."
Mrozinski said many attendees felt misled by the event and expected it be a forum where officials fielded questions from the public in front of an audience.
Instead, the event allowed attendees to chat on a one-on-one basis with Husky officials, including Schade, and representatives from other agencies involved in the cleanup and monitoring such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services.
"It's a passive 'look how are awesome we are' propaganda fest," Mrozinski said.
Husky handed out free stuffed huskies, Husky Energy water bottles and trucker hats bearing the Husky logo.
"The intent of the open house is really to connect with the community. We know there's concerns out there, there's questions out there," Schade said.
Gamal Johnson-Bey of Superior said he attended to find out more about emergency notifications, and spoke with members of the Superior police and fire departments.
Johnson-Bey said he first learned about the explosion on Facebook and had no idea there was an evacuation until he turned on the 6 p.m. news, hours after the evacuation orders were issued.
"The process of notifying people was kind odd to me," Johnson-Bey said. "It could have been better."
Schade said the refinery continues to clean up asphalt spilled in the fire and the investigation is ongoing. Extensive repair and reconstruction is needed before the refinery can reopen.