Worker Camps: Glasgow Takes Look
First Of Two Parts
A small group from Glasgow made the trip out to Williston last week to get an inside look at what the workforce camps might look like in Valley County if the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline ever gets approval.
With the county commissioners and the county planning and zoning approving the two workforce camps that would be located between Nashua and Fort Peck and another just outside of Hinsdale some curious city and county employees and the chamber of commerce decided to take a look at what might be coming in the upcoming years.
The group toured the Bear Paw Lodge, which is about six miles outside of Williston. Workers from Halliburton and other contracted companies stay at the camp while working long hours in the Bakken. Target Logistics, which is the company that will own the workforce camps, provided lunch in the camp cafeteria. It was hard to call the place a camp, as the kitchen was something you might find in a large restaurant.
Workers are able to serve themselves breakfast in the morning, have a station to make and pack lunches for the work site during lunch, or be served a hot lunch at the work camp, and also enjoy a hot dinner. The group that toured last week on Thursday, April 9 was able to pick between a Philly cheesesteak and fries, or chicken fettuccine with greens. A salad bar was also open. The kitchen could easily hold a few hundred people.
Later in the tour Target Logistics Regional Vice President Travis Kelley explained that the kitchen was one of the big incentives for workers to stay at a workforce camp. Not only is their lodging provided, but they also don't have to provide any food, which can add up to big savings. The Bear Paw Lodge is home to over 500 workers and Kelley asked the kitchen staff about how much they spent on food on a normal week, it added up to $25,000, or $100,000 a month.
The facility was 190 buildings put together to make up something that seemed a little bit more like a hotel instead of a temporary camp. Workers have a modest room with a bathroom attached, and full access to a gym, which includes a sauna. They also have access to a commissary that has some items like shampoo, tobacco products, cold medicine and anything you might find at a hotel. Workers can have access to free wifi, or a few computers provided in the recreation room for those without a device. The recreation room also has a few poker tables and pool tables along with a few big screen TVs to maybe watch a big game. Anyone needed to do their laundry also has access to a laundry room that has laundry soap dispensed into the machines free of charge.
Target Logistics and TransCanada Project Manager of the Keystone Pipeline Rick Perkins invited Chairman of Williams County Planning and Zoning Board Tate Cymbaluk. Tate explained why the need for camps like this were important to Williston and their booming economy, and why those involved in the pipeline project might see some benefits.
He explained that the area just didn't have the housing to provide to the workers. He explained that while open camps tended to be the workforce camps the county struggled with, the closed camps that Target Logistics provided were the ones that had seen more success. He said that the closed camps only offered lodging to contracted workers and that it was rare that they had issues where law enforcement had to respond to the closed camps.
"We can't control the environment 100 percent, but with the policies they have in place you can keep it up," Cymbaluk said.
He said that the closed camps were not as much of a revolving workforce, and that the workers that came to stay were often only there to work. He said that working with Target Logistics has been beneficial to their area, as the company works nationwide and they've had time to do trial and error and work out a temporary camp that worked well.
"These were very necessary in our region," Cymbaluk said. "It's a great concept when you have the proper situation and the proper management."
Cymbaluk also said that Target Logistics often participates in community events. He said that they've engaged in their community by sponsoring and hosting events. Kelley said that this was part of who Target Logistics is.
He explained that when the workforce camps first came to Williston they weren't sure how it would work, and a lot of the open camps didn't work. The difference between an open and closed camp is that in the open camps any worker could come and stay at the location. Closed camps are only for unions and companies that contract their workers to stay.
Perkins and Kelley said that one difference Valley County and other areas with workforce camps along the pipeline might see is a full time Nurse Practitioner (NP) or a Physicians Assistant (PA) on location. Perkins said that the idea was to keep from burdening the local clinics and hospitals. He said that they wouldn't be able to do some things, like labs and testing, but the average needs might be four to six workers per month.
Glasgow Police Chief Bruce Barstad asked what the average age of workers might be. Kelley said that was a question they didn't get and he couldn't be certain on the median age, but he guessed somewhere around 36-years-old. He added that welders with the experience they were looking for would be older. TransCanada Spokesperson Bud Anderson added that he thought it could be more of an average between 38 and 40.
Barstad also asked what happens to workers that might be booted out of camp, if the company gave law enforcement names or let them know who might be trying to find a place in the local community. Anderson said that was a little grey, as union workers have protective rights that might cover some of that issue.
Perkins told the group that only 3-5 percent of workers in the camps would be women. Which had Glasgow Mayor Becky Erickson asking what type of jobs the women covered. Perkins said environmental workers and Anderson said that inspectors as well. The women also have their own wing for rooms in the workforce camp that has an additional card access to make them feel just a little bit more secure.
A group from Colome, South Dakota flew in for the tour last week. They also had a lot more questions, as their process on approving workforce camps have just begun. Many Valley County employees, including the commissioners actually took a similar tour two years ago when the process to approve the workforce camps started.
Landowners from there asked about restoration of the land and how they reconditioned top soil. Anderson explained that in South Dakota they had to replace the top soil, which they would seed. They added that landowners could also recondition the land on their own if they didn't want their contractors to do the work, and a check would be provided for their time and materials needed to get the project done. The landowners also asked if they could talk to others who have already been a part of the process. Perkins said that they could probably talk to some of the landowners from the first phase of the Keystone Pipeline that had already been finished.
A county commissioner from Colome asked about compensation from crop loss. Perkins said that they would cover any crop loss that may occur from the pipeline.
Next week in The Courier: Part 2
Other issues that came up from law enforcement included what types of problems that may come with the pipeline. Perkins said that they did have some environmentalists that had caused some issues in other areas and that they had to work to keep things from escalating. He added that there wouldn't be any visitors, not even family members, allowed to visit the camps. Perkins added that they would have a few contracted law enforcement members living in the camps.
When chatting with a few workers that were living in the camp, they said that they didn't see a lot of problems living at the workforce camp. All three workers worked as electrical engineers for Halliburton, two were from Washington State and one was from South Dakota. When asked about some drawbacks about the camps they only said that the gym needed to be a little bit bigger, and that the recreation room could also use a boost.
The workers seemed to live in a bubble. They said that they didn't go out much, only to the worksite and back. The three workers in their 20s said that they didn't have to pay for groceries or worry about doing the dishes. They all went home during their week off. One of the workers said he lived in townhouses and had only been at the work camp for about a month. He said he went out occasionally from the townhouses to get groceries. Since he had been living at the camp he rarely went out.
They said that they could possibly use a bigger parking area, but only about half of the guys living in the camp had their own personal vehicle on site. They said that they rarely heard about break-ins or disputes, but they probably wouldn't' leave their doors unlocked. They also added that a lot of single guys were working in the camps because it was a lot easier to work longer without family to go back to. All of them had been working for Halliburton for over a year.
As the tour came to a close, Kelley and Perkins said that further questions are always welcome.