County commissioners adopt regulations aimed at man camps
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. While Garfield County has strongly resisted regulating the oil and gas industry in the past, it took a step in that direction Monday by adopting land use regulations that will govern temporary employee housing, commonly called man camps.Although the new regulations apply to all areas of the county and cover housing for all industries, their intent and the forces that propelled them focus squarely on oil and gas.Along with the increased drilling activity in the county comes demand for housing the workers in that industry. Housing shortages especially in the west end of the county where the drilling is taking place have led larger companies to build temporary trailer camps close to drilling sites. That in turn led the county to reconsider its zoning regulations governing temporary employee housing, which were put in place in the late 1970s when oil shale was beginning to boom. It was during that era that the county saw large man camps built to house hundreds of workers.In amending the regulations Monday, the county now requires a company to apply for a special use permit, which involves a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission and the county commissioners.Under the regulations, the company will have to demonstrate there is a severe housing shortage in the area of its activity.It also requires water and sewage treatment ranging from individual sewage disposal systems to portable toilets and periodic water testing, depending on the size and duration of the camp.Camps are also required to be at least one mile apart. Permits are issued for one year with the option to renew annually at a public hearing.Commissioner Larry McCown expressed concern the new regulations were “a case of Big Brother” government. “I see this as OK if you have 300 or 400 people,” he said.The commissioners also debated whether the regulations should apply only to remote areas in the county where workers have to commute some hours to the drilling sites, and where man camps could mean better living conditions and safety for the drill rig crews.Commissioner Trési Houpt argued that applying the regulations to all parts of the county could mean allowing man camps near residential districts.”I have heard from western Garfield County concerns about having the camps near communities,” she said.But McCown pressed for an all-encompassing regulation.”I think the problem (of employee housing), if we’re not facing it today … we’ll see it in the not-too-distant future,” he said.Not only will the oil and gas industry continue to grow, but large construction projects are also looming, including enlargement of the county airport near Rifle. By applying the regulations to many industries countywide, they would cover other contingencies.Williams Production RMT brought the idea for the new regulations to the county this summer. Williams, one of the county’s largest natural gas producers, is also looking at establishing an employee housing camp this winter.The new regulations “take care of two issues – safety and sanitation,” said Phil Vaughn, a consultant and chairman of the county planning and zoning commission who worked on the regulations for Williams.An associated issue will also get its own set of regulations. The county recently learned that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission does not regulate what are called “essential personnel,” two or three key employees on a drill rig who must be present at all times while drilling in is process. A letter from an assistant state attorney general said COGCC does not regulate those employees and their housing, which is typically modulars or trailers parked on the well pad during drilling.Although they bypass the temporary housing regulation that technically applies to essential personnel on well pads, the commissioners said they would not cite operators for violations to the new code until a new regulation applied specifically to that situation is written and adopted.Several oil and gas company representatives urged the commissioners to adopt the temporary housing regulations Monday.Man camps “allow us to keep those guys to themselves … (with) no guns and no women, so there shouldn’t be a problem,” said Brenda Lister Herndon, permit and right-of-way coordinator for EnCana.In voting to apply the regulations to all areas of the county, Commissioner John Martin said, “(It) gives the board the opportunity to … say ‘yea’ or ‘nay'” to a permit application. “I would much rather be able to review those applications.”With the regulations in place, they could “make people more selective where (they) locate the camps,” he added.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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