With a new decade dawning, the News Tribune staff decided to look back at the past decade and pick the biggest news stories from 2010-18 (2019 has its own list, which you can read here).
From the countless possibilities, here are the news stories that stood out from that time frame:
Husky Energy refinery fire
An explosion just after 10 a.m. at the Husky Energy refinery in Superior on April 26, 2018, interrupted an otherwise calm spring morning.
As crews were shutting down parts of the refinery for a planned five-week turnaround, a worn valve within the fluid catalytic cracking unit allowed hydrocarbons and air to mix and, eventually, igniting.
The blast injured 36 refinery employees and contractors, but no one died.
Shrapnel from the blast punctured a nearby asphalt tank, which caused its contents to spill onto the site. At around noon, the asphalt caught fire, causing a massive smoke plume visible throughout the Twin Ports and beyond.
Much of Superior evacuated, but it wasn’t until hours later that officials actually said why they ordered the evacuation.
The News Tribune was first to question company and public officials on the presence of hydrogen fluoride, which is used in the process to create high-octane gasoline and can cause death from an irregular heartbeat or from fluid buildup in the lungs when inhaled at high levels or in combination with skin contact.
Officials avoided questions about hydrogen fluoride during a news conference held as the fire still burned. However, a Superior Fire Department official told the News Tribune after the news conference ended that having the fire spread to the hydrogen fluoride tank would be the worst-case scenario, with other experts saying the fumes could spread a toxic cloud of gas for miles downwind. Superior’s evacuation, the fire official confirmed, was based on the potential of a hydrogen fluoride release. No hydrogen fluoride was released during the incident.
By 7 p.m., the fire was contained, well ahead of the days-long fire some officials predicted, and the evacuation was lifted early the next morning. But a lengthy debate over the future of hydrogen fluoride at the refinery and two separate federal investigations into the incident were just beginning.
The refinery is being rebuilt, and Husky has said it will continue to use hydrogen fluoride, with a partial restart possible in 2020 and a full restart planned for 2021.
The ground already was saturated June 19, 2012, when a frontal system stalled over the Northland. In two days, the National Weather Service recorded 7.24 inches of rain in Duluth, with up to 10 inches in some places.
Water stood in neighborhoods and shopping areas where people had never seen water before. Much of the Lake Superior Zoo was swamped. Barnyard animals drowned and other animals escaped. Feisty the seal was found on Grand Avenue. Berlin the polar bear, roaming the zoo grounds, had to be tranquilized before being brought back into safekeeping.
The iconic swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton was destroyed, as was much of state Highway 210 through the park. The eastern portion of the highway wasn’t reopened until more than five years later.
No people died, although a young boy was washed down a culvert.
Last Place on Earth synthetic drugs controversy
The Last Place on Earth sometimes appeared to be the busiest place in downtown Duluth in the early years of the decade, as customers lined up to purchase synthetic drugs sold by store owner Jim Carlson and his employees.
Carlson steadfastly maintained that his products, with names such as “Spice” and “K2,” were legal because they contained no chemicals specifically banned by federal authorities.
Police, prosecutors and ultimately a jury disagreed.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden issued a temporary restraining order July 19, 2013, forcing the store to close. It never reopened.
A Minneapolis jury convicted Carlson on Oct. 7, 2013, of 51 charges related to the sale of synthetic drugs, product mislabeling and money laundering. He was sentenced to 17½ years in prison. His son and former girlfriend were convicted on lesser charges.
The building that was once home to The Last Place on Earth is now Blacklist Artisan Ales.
Northland Olympians bring home the gold
If great moments are born from great opportunity, perhaps nobody seized a great opportunity more than John Shuster and his Duluth Curling Club teammates as they became the first American team to ever win gold in curling, doing so in improbable fashion at the Winter Olympics in February 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The U.S. rink of Shuster, Tyler George, John Landsteiner and Matt Hamilton (Duluth's Joe Polo was an alternate and Eveleth's Phill Drobnick was the coach) lost four of its first six matches and needed to win its three remaining matches just to qualify for the four-team medal round. The U.S. did just that and then defeated the reigning Olympic and world champion Canadian team in the semifinals to reach the gold-medal match against Sweden.
The gold medal set off a whirlwind media tour, capping what some dubbed not just the Minnesota Olympics, but the Duluth Olympics.
Maddie Rooney and Sidney Morin of the Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team helped Team USA win its first Olympic gold medal in 20 years.
Rooney, who is back with the team for her senior season, won the starting goaltender job as a 20-year-old. She made 29 saves in the gold-medal game, plus two dramatic stops in the shootout to defeat Canada. The team was coached by Duluth native Robb Stauber.
Shannon Miller sues UMD for discrimination
The University of Minnesota Duluth’s surprise midseason announcement that Shannon Miller would not be retained after 16 seasons as women’s hockey coach sparked a half-decade of legal action that is just now being resolved.
Miller, who established the program and guided her team to five national championships, was informed in December 2014 that her contract wouldn’t be renewed, with UMD initially citing financial constraints. But as controversy swirled in the following weeks, school officials said there were additional factors, including recent lack of competitive and academic success.
After Miller sued, a federal jury in March 2018 found UMD liabable for sex discrimination and Title IX retaliation. The panel awarded Miller $3.74, though a judge later slashed the “excessive” verdict.
Just this month, Miller and the university finalized a $4.5 million settlement agreement. She will receive approximately $2.1 million, with the remaining $2.43 million going to her attorneys. While Miller called it a “huge victory,” the university continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Two other former UMD coaches, Jen Banford and Annette Wiles, resigned in the months following Miller’s non-renewal. They are still appealing the dismissal of their legal claims alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Enbridge Line 3 controversy
Enbridge Energy has been trying to build an oil pipeline across northern Minnesota to its Superior terminal for most of the decade.
First, in 2012, the Calgary-based company proposed the Sandpiper pipeline that would have connected North Dakota’s Bakken Oil Patch to Superior.
In 2014, Enbridge proposed another new pipeline that would connect Alberta to Superior to largely replace its aging Line 3 pipeline.
By 2016, Enbridge pulled its plans for Sandpiper. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission had voted to suspend its approval of a key permit for Sandpiper after the state Court of Appeals ruled that the PUC erred in not conducting a comprehensive environmental review before granting the pipeline a "certificate of need."
The PUC approved a route permit and certificate of need for Line 3 in 2018, but the project has faced numerous legal challenges since.
Line 3 opponents of both projects say the pipeline poses a danger to the environment and could damage tribal lands and resources and have led large demonstrations against it.
Most recently, The Minnesota Department of Commerce released an addition to the proposed $2.9 billion pipeline project's environmental impact statement after a Minnesota appellate court said the company's proposal was inadequate without it. The new environmental review said the proposed Enbridge Line 3 replacement line would have minimal impacts on Spirit Lake and the Lake Superior watershed.
Enbridge's proposed Line 3 pipeline would carry 760,000 barrels of oil (31,920,000 gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada, to the Enbridge terminal in Superior. The pipeline would replace Enbridge's existing 50-year-old Line 3, but follow a new 350-mile route through much of Minnesota.
Enbridge officials hope to start work on the project next year, but the project still needs numerous permits and approvals from state regulators.
Severe windstorm downs thousands of trees in Duluth
Violent thunderstorms roared through the Northland with hurricane-force winds July 21, 2016, downing trees and power lines and damaging homes and cars on a scale that left many residents stunned.
The storms left more than 75,000 customers without power in the Northland. At one point, a third of Minnesota Power’s 65,000 customers in Duluth were affected — the worst storm to affect the city’s electrical grid in 15 years.
Straight-line winds reportedly reached 100 mph in some parts of the region, leaving a wide swath of damage from Leech Lake east to the Twin Ports and continuing into Northwestern Wisconsin. Areas on the north and east side of Duluth, along with the city of Rice Lake and Lakewood Township, were particularly hard-hit.
Later in the day, temperatures climbed into the upper 80s and lower 90s, prompting communities to set up cooling centers for residents who were sweltering without fans or air conditioning.
No serious injuries or fatalities were reported in St. Louis County. However, a 39-year-old woman and a 13-year-old boy from Texas died when trees fell on them in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. The two were camping with a group affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America.
Pagami Creek Fire scars BWCAW
Minnesota’s largest wildfire in more than 75 years is believed to have started with a lightning strike about 13 miles east of Ely on or around Aug. 18, 2011.
As fire plays a natural role in shaping the wilderness, the then-relatively-small flare-up initially was allowed to smolder until late August, when it began to spread, fanned by strong winds and fueled by a tinder-dry landscape.
Fire officials were startled by the speed of the fire’s advance as it raced across more than 16 miles, charing 70,000 acres of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in a single day, Sept. 12.
By the time it was through, the fire left about a 93,000-acre scar. The U.S. Forest Service deployed firefighters from throughout the nation to bring the blaze under control, and while it caused substantial damage, the fire claimed no private property and inflicted no serious human injuries.
Planes collide over Superior
Two small planes collided at sunset Nov. 2, 2013, and people fell from the sky over Superior.
Fortunately for nine of the people, they were skydivers out on a planned excursion with Skydive Superior, and their harrowing brush with death became a viral sensation thanks to a video and national media attention.
As the first survivors landed, they counted the remaining descending parachutes and were astonished — everyone was alive as even the pilots survived, one parachuting after his plane broke apart and plummeted to the ground. The other limped back to Richard I. Bong Memorial Airport with a damaged propeller.
"It wasn't a miracle that one of us survived or any of us survived," said Dan Chandler, 32, one of the skydivers in a group since dubbed the "Miracle 11." "It was a miracle that all of us survived."
All friends in a tight-knit community of skydivers, they were inundated with well-wishes from around the globe. Whirlwind media exposure ensued, including appearances on NBC's "Today" and "Dateline" shows. By the end, several of the Miracle 11 said they were exhausted from the attention.
Above Superior that fateful day, Chandler had let go of a strut and was whisked away from the scene like a tissue in the wind. The moment lives on in an endless number of compilation videos showcasing human escapes.
A year after the event, Chandler told the News Tribune what he recalled most was hearing the Doppler effect as the two planes came together.
"The two tones peaking at the same moment," Chandler said. "Two props merging and shredding."
Amsoil Arena welcomes first fans
On Dec. 30, 2010, Amsoil Arena hosted its first event, when the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team played North Dakota.
The Bulldogs had a long and storied history in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Arena, but had not won a national title during their residency there.
But the addition of sparkling Amsoil Arena to the DECC ushered in an age of Division I men’s college hockey dominance, as the Bulldogs won national championships in 2011, 2018 and 2019.
Construction of the $70 million facility began in April 2009. Amsoil, the Superior-based maker of synthetic oil products, agreed to pay $6 million over the course of 20 years for the new arena’s naming rights.
The project is funded in part by a 0.75% local tax on food and drink sold in Duluth, which was supported by a citywide referendum vote.
The project was repeatedly delayed, when the city’s efforts to obtain state bonding funds were twice thwarted. But in 2008, the Minnesota Legislature finally came through, providing $38 million of support for the arena.
The new 6,700-seat venue boasts 2,100 more seats than the DECC arena it replaced.