County considering zoning change for workers camps
“Mancamp” was a dirty word for some folks who saw the oil shale boom of the 1980s in Garfield County. It meant a sprawling, trashed-out trailer park north of Parachute that housed hundreds of oil shale workers. Now the phrase is “camper park for energy workers,” and one natural gas company, Occidental Oil and Gas Group (Oxy), is proposing one north of DeBeque to temporarily house its workers.Oxy began discussing a remedy with the county late last year, said Doug Dennison, regulatory coordinator for the company, about a process to permit such camps. It has applied for a zoning code amendment to allow the camps and a special use permit.Dennison said the company would like to establish the camps for workers who have to travel one and a half to two hors over rough roads to reach the company’s private land – about 20,000 acres.”Our work is in a remote area. … It gets dangerous to travel some of those back roads when they’re wet,” he said. The county is now crafting the zoning amendment to allow temporary workers camps. Among the permitting requirements will be stipulations regulating water and waste water use as well as trash disposal.Currently, Oxy operates in a resource lands zone, which does not permit camper parks. “Our ultimate goal is to work with the county to come up with something specific to this kind of facility,” Dennison said.County planning director Mark Bean said he favors such a move.”(It) would benefit the people in the county because it would reduce travel on the roads and have less impact because it’s in a remote area,” he said.Currently Oxy stages people along the roads to help out if trucks or other equipment gets stuck.The area is located north of DeBeque on top of a mesa accessed via Logan Wash.”We need a place where workers can rest and get a hot meal and take a shower,” Dennison said. “Our goal is to provide a safe place for our workers to spend the night. And it will reduce traffic if they don’t have to commute,” he said.The camps Oxy is proposing would consist of three to four trailers that can be moved depending on where activity is located. Each trailer would accommodate about three workers, he said.They would not be like the Parachute mancamp, which was a permanent camp for hundreds of workers housed in modular buildings.”We’re going to work with the county on how sewage is handled, bear-proof containers and potable water,” Dennison said.County environmental health manager Jim Rada has also been working with Dennison on permitting the worker camps. For him, issues revolve around “where the (potable) water will come from and how it will be protected so it doesn’t create a source of disease,” he said. The same applies to sewage.County regulations for the camps would be similar to those governing drilling rigs where trailers are brought in for workers. Sewage is piped to a holding tank and then picked up by a registered hauler and taken to one of the county’s two landfills.Rada said he’s also concerned about how food will be provided. Food service catering is inspected and licensed by the state health department. Dennison said no plans are now in place to provide catered meals. Each trailer’s occupants would be responsible for preparing their own meals.The camps are not meant “as a replacement for someone’s home,” Dennison said.And they would be seasonal. Dennison said to protect wintering deer and elk herds no drilling can be carried on between Dec. 1 and April 31. Although it is drilling primarily on the 20,000 acres it owns in the area, Oxy must obey the stipulation set by the Bureau of Land Management because access roads cross BLM land.Dennison estimated the company will have one to two drilling rigs at work this season and approximately 60 new wells.United Way director Leslie Robinson, who is also a member of the county human services commission, said employee housing for the oil and gas industry is a big issue for the county these days. Such temporary housing “underscores the problem of housing availability,” she said. “Companies are having to come up with ingenious ways to house workers.”She said the human services commission is considering asking the county to undertake a housing study specifically geared to the needs of oil and gas workers. Such a study is needed “so we have an idea what their needs are,” Robinson said. Ideally, those workers and their families would move to Garfield County and become contributing members of the community.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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