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Crew camps the focus of tri-state workshop

Representatives from five lodging companies showcased their crew camp practices to city, county and state officials from Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, above, Wednesday at the Badlands Activities Center in Dickinson during the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties' Crew Camp Best Practices Workshop.

Crew camp companies want to come to western North Dakota, and officials made it clear Wednesday at the Badlands Activities Center in Dickinson that the state needs them.

"Eventually some of them will become permanent residents, but not all of them will," said Vicky Steiner, executive director of North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties. "The communities don't want to overbuild and have vacancies when the drilling phase is finished. The communities are trying to find that balance."

About 75 city, county and state officials from North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana came to the association's Crew Camp Best Practices Workshop on Wednesday at the Badlands Activities Center in Dickinson.

"It's a way for them to introduce themselves to a wide group of community people and say this is what we do," she said. "People are just curious about crew camps."

Five representatives from lodging companies showcased their operating practices. Crew camp waste disposal issues, emergency services and crew camp city fees were discussed.

More people are moving into western North Dakota in response to an oil boom, and lodging companies want to leave a positive image on the communities they work with, said Sonny Alford, Pioneer Lodge & Commons national project manager in Watford City.

"There is somewhat of a concern that (crew camps) are moving in," he said. "When people talk about crew lodging facilities, they can be proud."

Western North Dakota needs crew camps, Steiner said. She formed a crew camp best practices taskforce after the workshop, which will be used to gather information about crew camp companies for communities.

"If our taskforce can become knowledgeable, we may be able to help other communities," Steiner said.

Crew camps are new to Richland County, Mont., and departments do not have ordinances for them, Richland County Commissioner Shane Gorden.

"They are dealing with stuff that isn't in their books," he said.

Gorden would like to see Montana form a similar taskforce.

Companies have shown interest in building lodging near Sidney, Mont., Gorden said. Though it is hard to estimate how many people have come into the county of about 9,000 residents, the area, including Sidney, is realizing infrastructure trouble, particularly with the sewer, he said.

"I know the town of Sidney, they talked the school enrollment could grow 300, 400 kids in the next year and a half," he said. "RV parks are in farmers' and ranchers' backyards. It's a number we are trying to get a finger on, but they move from site to site."

Recent crime committed by oil field workers has given crew camps "a bad rep," Gorden said. Sidney Public School teacher Sherry Arnold, 43, was allegedly abducted by Lester Vann Waters Jr. and Michael Spell, who came to work in the oil fields in eastern Montana.

Arnold went missing during a morning run Jan. 7 and is believed to be buried on a farmstead near Williston.

Gorden said people need to get over that bad name, adding that crew camps could help alleviate housing problems until developers build more.

Some communities fear crew camps, Steiner said, but she wants to make sure officials have all the information before turning companies away.

"(Outlying communities) don't understand them, but I think as they become more comfortable with it and they can find a reputable company, it could be a solution for them," she said.