Several crew camp operators whose facilities could join the city of Williston if the “Northern Annexation” is voted through Thursday said this week they have no major concerns about the proposal so far and will have representatives at the meeting.
Thursday night’s meeting at 6 p.m. at the Williston High School Auditorium will include a presentation from city staff and an opportunity for questions and comments from the public. The only item on the agenda will be the proposed annexation of roughly 4,800 acres and more than 500 property owners into the city that are now located north of town.
At least three operators have major man camps within the proposed area, including ATCO, Black Gold Oilfield Services and Aries Building Systems, formerly Aritech Industries.
Peter Eberle, executive vice president at Reliant Asset Management, Aries’ parent company, said he was hesitant in his initial reaction to the proposal until he talked with Williston’s city planners.
“I reserved my initial reaction until I met with them,” Eberle, who spends about two weeks a month in Williston, said.
The Aries camp includes 200 beds and is a closed camp, connected with a single company long term. Eberle said he knew the annexation was coming down the pipe, and he believes the city is going about the situation correctly.
“This is a well thought out plan,” he said. “I’m not too concerned about it. I believe that they understand the need for man camps at least on a temporary basis.”
“It’s going to be done in a very professional manner,” he added.
Eberle said the camp’s permit is up for review in May, and he believes the city’s decisions about man camps going forward will be in line with the Williams County Commission’s and needs.
“I think the county and the city have a fantastic working relationship,” he said. “I don’t see any changes, any immediate changes, to the way we operate the camp.”
Some discussion among city commissioners has included consideration of phasing out crew camps by 10 percent or 15 percent over a period of time. Commissioner Brent Bogar said operators he has spoken with have said that would not be possible because it would be cost detrimental given operating expenses, which Eberle said was true.
“A phase out creates all kinds of inefficiencies within the operations of the camp,” he said. “A logistic nightmare. You get to a certain number of beds and you lose efficiencies.”
Eberle said although he understands the city’s desire to bring permanent residents here in permanent housing, the individuals at the camp are mostly young, single men who have no families at home to bring here.
Even shared apartments in Williston, he said, are out of reach price-wise and man camps leave no footprint behind and limit the possibility of overbuilding.
“You have to go back to the definition of affordable housing,” he said.
But Eberle said he is impressed overall with the city’s knowledge about man camps.
“I think they’re absolutely ahead of the curve on the role that man camps play,” he said. “They’re ahead of the curve in their understanding of how they operate.”
Eberle said as the city looks to eliminate man camps down the road, the camp could look to relocate. Until then, he expects and believes the company will be “treated fairly.”
“When you speak to (Principal Planner) Don Kress and (Director) Kent Jarcik, there are no surprises there,” he said. “They know what they’re doing. It was very refreshing to hear.”
At ATCO Structures and Logistics, Director of Camp Services Vitaly Galiulin said the 200-bed camp is an open lodge and has been here since December of 2010.
While commissioners have expressed concern about camps that offer stays under 30 days, Galiulin said contracts at the ATCO Lodge, like at the Airies camp, are longer than that.
“Normally we try to contract six months at a time, no less,” he said.
Galiulin said the company is waiting on the final decision on the annexation to engage with the city on what the ramifications could be. He said ATCO first heard about the proposal in December, but he was not surprised.
“I’m sure we’ll come up with a solution that works for everybody,” he said. “We consider ourselves as part of the community in Williston, so I mean so far, our relationship has been quite good.”
Galiulin said the company will be at the meeting, and he understands where the city is coming from on temporary housing.
“I’m sure that after Jan. 31 when the decision is made, I’m sure we’re going to engage in the conversation as far as the best solution for everyone,” he said.