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Businesses offer housing opportunities near Beulah in battle with man camp

HALLIDAY, N.D. -- The owner of a mobile home park in Halliday says Mercer County should take existing investments into account before approving a man camp near Beulah.

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The Coal Country Inn in Stanton saw $6 million in renovations that transformed the former school into an extended stay facility with 91 beds. Operators say there's plenty of room for urea construction workers. (LAUREN DONOVAN/Bismarck Tribune)

HALLIDAY, N.D. -- The owner of a mobile home park in Halliday says Mercer County should take existing investments into account before approving a man camp near Beulah.

The topic is on Wednesday’s agenda of the Mercer County Commission, which will take up a zoning recommendation for an oil patch camp operation that wants to move empty units into Coal Country during construction of a $500 million urea fertilizer plant.

Lois Selle, owner of S&W Mobile Home Park in Halliday, said she hopes the commission will consider available housing investment before allowing more to come in.

“Rather than invest in another man camp and the infrastructure, why not utilize what’s already here?” asked Selle, who says she has invested “a couple of hundred thousand” in an expanded park in Halliday with room for 135 mobile home and RV units. Only 35 are filled now because oil activity slowed so drastically, and loan payments still need to be made, she said.

Selle’s mobile home park isn’t in the county, but it is within easy driving distance from the urea project north of Beulah adjoining the Dakota Gasification Co. synfuels plant.

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Closer to home is the Coal Country Inn in Stanton, which has 91 beds in the former Stanton school, renovated for $6 million into a deluxe extended-stay facility.

The inn opened in 2012, is more empty than full much of the time and could easily handle urea plant workers, says manager Vanessa Mullikin. The urea project is underway, but the workforce will ramp up to the full 750 through the upcoming construction season.

Jude Reilly is marketing manager for Industrial Contractors Inc., which along with parent company APi Group, developed the Stanton inn to guarantee housing for temporary coal industry workers during maintenance outages and other work. Reilly said the inn offers a competitive weekly rate and is clean, quiet and comfortable, with an outdoor patio, communal TV lounge and paved parking.

The downside is a lack of food service, but a Stanton native is interested in operating a kitchen on site and Reilly said a decision whether to go into the meal business should be made soon.

Stanton’s only cafe isn’t open the extended hours construction workers keep, so providing meals and sack lunches could be a deal changer for some, Mullikin said.

Reilly said he won’t try to influence the commission’s decision.

“It’s not my place to say whether (that operation) can’t come in. They’re entitled to pursue an opportunity also," Reilly said. “But this place is pretty darned nice.”

In the same vein, Paul Cabrera, manager of the UFS Lodge in Underwood, said he has 41 unfurnished apartments and furnished motel-style units available in what used to be a nursing home facility in Underwood.

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“We would like to bring workers in,” said Cabrera, adding that man camps are a good short-term solution when oil prices are up, but not over the long term.

On the table is an application for a conditional use permit for Civeo Corp. The Mercer County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended a permit, but said the proposed location on the north side of Highway 200 between Hazen and Beulah should be tested for old underground mine caverns and traffic safety needs to be a component of the plan.

Civeo’s regional manager Fred Allison said the company wants to bring in 100 beds in 50 units that have kitchen facilities and possibly double that if the need develops.

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