Unhappy campers: For pipeline workers in Grand Forks area, there’s only one place to stay — and their families don’t like it
GRAND FORKS — When Mary Petz, a pipeline worker from Oregon, pulled into The Grand Forks Campground southwest of town in early May, she didn’t expect to have to park her trailer in 10 inches of water.
Nor did she expect to step out her door and smell the strong odor of sewage.
“I asked them to come either pump the water out or put some gravel down so it wouldn’t be so muddy, and they said they’d come out here and do it, but they never did,” Petz said. “And that’s not the only problem me and the other pipeliners have had here.”
Since moving into the RV park around April or May to work on a natural gas pipeline going through the area, many of the pipeliners said they have raised a handful of complaints like Petz’s. They say the sewage system is poor, campsites are flooded and the electricity doesn’t work consistently.
“Pay the rent and the bills, but don’t expect nothin’,” said Marilyn Starr, a camper from Oklahoma whose husband works on the pipeline.
Managers say they’re doing their best to make improvements, but the campers expect too much.
“When something isn’t working, we fix it,” said campground manager Karla Shane.
For now, the unhappy campers don’t have a choice. The pipeliners and their families said Grand Forks is the nearest town to their project and staying in hotels for months can be very costly. There are some other campgrounds, but most don’t allow them to stay months at a time.
The campground managers don’t feel they have much of a choice either. Owner Al Shane said the campers have already paid in advance and, anyway. Evicting them would just “fuel the fire.”
Funny smells, bad electricity
Like Petz, Whitney Figiel from Louisiana and Brandi Seegers from Texas complained that their campsites were flooded, and not just because of the recent torrential rains.
Both women ended up having their husbands bring wooden pallets home from work so everyone could get in and out of their trailers without trekking through nearly a foot of water.
“We were paying all this money and they refused to move us,” Seegers said.
But Shane, the campground owner, was not sympathetic.
“They came here when we had all the rain and they were bitching about the rain,” he said. “Their husbands work on the pipeline. They should know a little bit about mud.”
Starr said her biggest problem is the sewage system. “It smells out here sometimes.”
“We would encourage them to increase their pumping frequencies to handle the number of people who are there,” said Kenan Bullinger, director of the state Division of Food and Lodging, which oversees campgrounds.
Besides the flooded campsites, Seegers said the power has also not been dependable. “They went around and told all of us to turn out our electric and use gas,” she said.
“We’re paying for electric, we should have the right to use it,” Petz said.
Bullinger said there are laws and regulations dealing with licensing and inspection within the park.
Of all the complaints this group of pipeliners has, they said their biggest is the lack of respect they receive from campground managers.
“They tell us they’re going to do things and fix things, but they don’t,” Petz said. “They’re not nice when they see us, they’re very passive-aggressive.”
“They’re just rude,” Figiel said.
Managers say they don’t feel respected either.
“We bend over backwards to try and make them all happy,” said Karla Shane. “I don’t get this group of pipeliners. They are rude and disrespectful to our staff here. I would like them to control their kids and keep them from ruining my stuff and say, ‘Hey, your little brats are tearing my stuff up and vandalizing my property.’ They don’t sit out there and watch their kids.
“We just sit and bite our tongues and let them be.”
But despite the complaints, the pipeliners and their families said they won’t be going anywhere until the job is done here.
“I’d pay $900 to be at the state park if you didn’t have to leave every two weeks,” Figiel said.