Experts advise city, county on man camps
"You are in for a real ride as a county," Mountrail County Planner Don Longmuir said at the Roosevelt-Custer Regional Council's "Man-Camp" workshop Wednesday evening at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson.
The workshop was intended as a way for residents, community leaders and those in the energy industry to communicate and share experiences and ideas about man camps and the effects western North Dakota residents are seeing as a result of the recent oil boom.
"This is a new area for a lot of us," said Rod Landblom "We haven't faced these kinds of challenges before."
Some of the challenges Landblom was referring to are a housing shortage, wage and rent inflation, road destruction, employee retention, how to handle crew camps and keeping western North Dakota communities and the values and way of life people are used to intact.
Longmuir said a sudden population increase and lack of housing, let alone affordable housing, is what prompted the idea of temporary housing.
And because there are no state laws regarding crew camp housing many counties and cities are making their own to the best of their abilities.
"Ours isn't perfect, but I feel it is good," Dickinson City Planner Ed Courton said of Dickinson's crew housing facility ordinance.
Courton said some of the benefits of crew camps are that they stabilize the local market, alleviate some of the immediate demand for housing, aren't permanent, assist employers with needed housing for employees, prevent over building and reduce the number of people living in substandard housing and
But added the disadvantages include increased infrastructure needs, increased traffic, reduced property values and difficulty making camps compatible and visually appealing with the surrounding area.
Longmuir said in Mountrail County officials are feeling the pressure to make those in the energy industry happy.
"They want things done yesterday," Longmuir said. "We get a lot of 'you're ruining things,' 'slowing progress and development' and 'no one else makes us do this.' But you got to stick to your guns, because you are managing a community and have to think about your residents and the safety of the energy industry employees."
He said many companies push for special meetings and disregard waiting for clearance or the OK to build.
"We have people approaching farmers for land or asking them to allow them to live on their property," Longmuir said. "Another problem with that is sometimes people set up 'camp' without anybody's knowledge -- including the landowner's."
One example was farmers finding people living in their barns or machine shops or residents spotting man camps or other activities that have not been cleared by the city or county.
"One had space heaters and propane tanks in a farmer's shop," Longmuir said. "There can be real fire hazards with this."
He added liability, safety and emergency service and inspection are all concerns when these instances occur.
"These problems are hard to fathom until you have seen it," Longmuir said.
He said energy industry workers "squeal like stuffed pigs when you ask about bonds."
But added asking for them is important to ensure money for the clean up when the housing facilities are gone.
"It's important to follow up on the camps, businesses, buildings, etc., you allow," Longmuir said. "Get to know your states' attorney well."
Marc Mouton with Energy Resources Group agreed to a point, but added good crew camp housing managers do take care of their facilities.
"They know it's somebody's son, dad, husband, uncle, friend or grandfather living there and most take the necessary precautions to ensure health, safety and happiness," Mouton said.
He said zoning codes are important because they protect communities and the vendors, less than reputable people will not locate their and it defines the rules and expectations all parties have from the start.
"The hard part is what do you say to the long-term residents about what is coming?" Mouton asked. "Do you tax them more -- they've paid for infrastructure. And there not the ones causing the road damage and other things. They won't want to pay for it."
He said the challenge for Stark County is addressing the need to expand infrastructure while at the same time addressing the financial risks of an economic downturn, should production prove unstable.
He estimates energy industry tends to clear out when oil hits the $60 a barrel range.
He advised the city and county be true to ordinance and check on things after they have been approved.
"This is your home, your, community, your state, you have rights," Mouton said. "Guests are guests."