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Man camp for large construction project likely in Grand Forks

While the man camps in the Oil Patch are just 330 miles west of Grand Forks, they seem like part of a different world to many people in eastern North Dakota.

The Target Logistics facilities near Williston, N.D. accommodate more than 1,000 workers. Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service
The Target Logistics facilities near Williston, N.D. accommodate more than 1,000 workers. Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. – While the man camps in the Oil Patch are just 330 miles west of Grand Forks, they seem like part of a different world to many people in eastern North Dakota.

But with 2,000 workers expected in Grand Forks for construction on the planned $1.85 billion Northern Plains Nitrogen fertilizer plant, the need for some sort of temporary labor housing--commonly called man camps or crew camps--in Grand Forks is likely, city officials say.

"There will be some void (for housing) that we're going to have to fill," City Administrator Todd Feland said.

NPN's peak construction period, which will require roughly 2,000 workers for about 36 months, is expected to start in early 2017, said Calvin Coey, project manager for NPN.

But city leaders, NPN officials and local workforce housing researchers have different opinions on the extent of Grand Forks' anticipated housing need and how that need should be filled.

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Feland said the city is still working out the details of what NPN's full impacts--positive and negative--will be, also including possible implications for traffic, safety and the economy.

More details on the city's efforts to accommodate growth relating to the NPN plant should be decided by next month, he said.

Feland and a city planner said any man camp in Grand Forks would be different from what is in the Oil Patch in the sense that it will be more limited and more temporary.

"It's not going to look like what you see out west," Deputy City Planner Ryan Brooks said.

But University of North Dakota researchers studying man camps said they expect to see many similarities between a crew camp in Grand Forks and those in Williston and other western North Dakota towns.

"It won't be different in the sense that every type of workforce housing that exists in the world exists in Williston," said Bill Caraher, history professor at UND and part of the North Dakota Man Camp Project, which has researched man camps in the state for about three years. Any type of man camp that may end up in Grand Forks is already in the Oil Patch, he said.

And in Grand Forks, "It wouldn't be small, if you need 2,000 workers," Caraher added.

NPN's expectations

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For months, Coey maintained the NPN project would not require man camps, even at peak construction, because the company will seek all possible housing and skilled workforce options in Grand Forks and surrounding communities to meet the needs of 2,000 workers.

"We don't believe the project requires a man camp at all," Coey said in late February, echoing comments he made last November.

But last week, Coey said it's possible the project will require a man camp, though it would be small.

"While we don't anticipate it, it's still a possibility," he said. "There's just a little bit of unknown," including what the extent of the housing need will be.

The company researched the possibility of a large man camp during early project planning stages in mid-2014, but the proposal was $70 million for a 500-person camp for one year, so NPN decided against that option, Coey said.

The company, which has not budgeted for a man camp on the Grand Forks project, met with several possible contractors in January who were divided on whether the project would require a man camp, Coey said.

If the project requires foreign workers--which Coey said some contractors said could happen because of the possible workforce shortage--the need for a man camp would be more likely to better accommodate any language barriers or other needs of foreign workers. He did not provide any other information on this possibility.

To alleviate needs for a crew camp, Coey said NPN is offering a higher rate of living expenses than the industry standard to workers traveling more than 60 miles to work on the construction site.

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Feland said while the city and NPN will work together on easing the need for a man camp in Grand Forks, it would be unrealistic to say the project will not require some type of limited temporary labor housing.

Another project

Unlike Grand Forks, in Stutsman County, where a fertilizer plant similar to NPN's is planned near the town of Spiritwood in east-central North Dakota on the same timeline as the Grand Forks project, local government passed crew camp ordinances in 2013.

Like the NPN project, the CHS Inc. fertilizer plant in Stutsman County is expected to reach peak construction in early 2017, requiring about 2,000 workers.

The county's crew camp ordinance requires temporary labor housing vendors to attain a permit from the county valid for 24 months and renewable up to two times, said Stutsman County Auditor Casey Bradley.

The ordinance holds the camps to regulations such as staying at least a quarter-mile away from a residence and requiring a 6-foot-tall fence around all camps.

Also, in anticipation of increased crime, Stutsman County's crew camp ordinance requires permit fees, which will be used to fund four new sheriff's deputies, Bradley said.

After Stutsman County passed its crew camp ordinance, the ordinance was adopted by the city of Jamestown, about 30 miles west of the CHS site, and some surrounding townships, Bradley said.

Also, local government already has set aside economic development land for a crew camp in Stutsman County, to be leased by CHS or its contractor, said Holly Miller, vice president of economic development at Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp.

When Stutsman County changed its laws to regulate man camps, there were some objections from the public, largely due to a misperception that the local government was encouraging man camps, Bradley said.

The laws are actually to regulate temporary labor housing, as CHS is anticipated to use crew camps for its workers, and crew camps had previously not been regulated, aside from some laws applying to trailers, he said.

"No matter what, there's going to be an impact, but it's whether we can minimize that as much as possible (with ordinances)," he said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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