Residents who live near the Bango Oil Refinery plant that experienced an explosion on Monday voiced their frustration at Wednesday night’s Churchill County Planning Board meeting for the lack of oversight on the facility.
A blast and subsequent fire that rocked Bango critically injured one worker, 24-year-old Daniel Snodgrass of Fallon. He is now at the University of California, Davis burn center undergoing treatment.
Ben Shawcroft, senior deputy district attorney who advises the planning commission, said the emergency response procedure that is in place worked well and helped settle concerns and fears on Monday. He also said an investigation is underway.
“There will be no official determination until the investigation is complete,” Shawcroft said, adding the facility 15 miles west of Fallon is shut down while investigators try to determine the cause of the blast.
Shawcroft said several issues between the county and Bango are ongoing, but he said it would be premature for him to provide any comment.
“I don’t know how the county will respond with Bango until the investigation is complete,” he added.
The blast and Shawcroft’s opening statement did not appease Rich Wideman, who lives on Cadet Road about two miles from Bango.
Wideman, who has an engineering background, has been a vocal critic of the plant and odor that emits from the plant over the valley where about 100 residents live. The Bango plant restores used oil back into its original life cycle.
“Kudos to the firemen ... they are the real heroes,” Wideman said, “but I don’t consider the county as heroes.”
He felt the county was glossing over the explosion and patting itself on the back for its response.
With his voice rising in agitation, Wideman admonished the county for not notifying residents of the situation and if they needed to be evacuated. He said he disapproved of the county’s response and the planning commission’s lack of oversight of Bango, which he said has been cited several times for violating state OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements.
He accused the county of not being transparent and unaccountable to the residents, especially those who live near Bango.
“Inconsistent, irresponsible,” Wideman snapped.
According to the Nevada Department Business and Industry, Bango received four violations for three work-site safety cases within a five-year period. Furthermore, the agency said other violations confirmed an incident when an employee hit his head after blacking out from exposure to fumes and Bango not preparing employees with the proper safety equipment for handling hazardous material.
Chris Davis, Reno district manager for the Nevada Department Business and Industry, added Bango did not properly label or identify floor and wall openings and holes,
Wideman also said the county was responsible for Snodgrass’ injuries.
“A boy was hurt on this fire, and that’s on your watch,” he said.
Don Mello has also been a vocal opponent of Bango and said he feels the same as Wideman. He also blamed the county for not having an evacuation plan in place for the residents to follow.
“We are damn lucky it happened in the day and not at dark, and it didn’t affect the hydrogen tank,” Mello said of the explosion.
Mello said the county assured residents that when Bango expanded its operations, an emergency plan would be drafted and implemented in case of a disaster.
“We still don’t have an emergency plan,” Mello said, adding that the process to develop a plan has been ongoing for seven years. “I live two miles away, and I am not aware of a single person getting a call.”
Since the plant opened in 2007, Mello approached county and state officials complaining of odor emitting from Bango. Mello said he could still smell the odor from the plant when he left his residence to drive to Wednesday’s meeting.
“The odor was terrible,” Mello said several times to commission members.
Mello then admonished the planning commission for granting Bango a permit to begin its operations in Churchill County.
“You did not do your job when you allowed them to come in here initially,” Mello pointed out.
Stuart Richardson, chairman of the planning commission, said he will pass the concerns to the emergency responders and find out why residents did not receive any calls.
That drew an angry response from Mello.
“Someday it will blow ... some day,” he said.
Another resident, Donna Jerman, said she visited her neighbors who said they never received a call. She also expressed her frustration with Churchill County.
“Our town doesn’t have our backs but Bango’s back,” she said.
Even if residents were to hire an attorney to fight Bango’s existence, Jerman said hiring lawyers would be too expensive.
“I guess we’re on our own out there,” she said.
Both Jerman and Wideman, though, praised Naval Air Station Fallon’s Federal Fire Department for bringing its crash trucks to help extinguish the fire. Germans said without the Navy, the plant may have been completely destroyed.
“But none of us would have been that sad,” she added.