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April Baumgarten, Forum Communications, Published June 05 2012

Over fierce opposition from hotels, Dickinson approves 3,000-unit man camp

DICKINSON, N.D. - City commissioners here and the hospitality industry butted heads Monday at a meeting a City Hall over a 3,000-unit lodging facility on the east side of town.

“We’re not saying there should not be crew camps,” said Doug Karle, vice president of operations for Hospitality Management in Burnsville, Minn. “What we are saying is that if you put 3,000 people into a man camp, the impact is going to be felt across the hotel industry, quality of life, and again tax payers are subsidizing this.”

Commissioners unanimously approved the Accommodate Dickinson project, which will be located on the northwest corner of East Villard Street and Energy Drive on about 45 acres of land. Accommodate International of Austin, Texas, is the owner and developer. The crew camp would be the company’s first in North Dakota.

The city needs temporary housing to facilitate people coming to the area for an oil boom, Mayor Dennis Johnson added. Dickinson could grow to 40,000 people in 10 years.

Hotel owners who were here before the oil boom have made large contributions to the community, said Karle, who represented Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge and other hotels in Dickinson. Approving the camp would take away customers from the industry and would “a slap to the face.”

The facility targets companies that would have workers stay for 90 days or more, Dennis VanLeewen of Accommodate said. While hotels have workers that stay one to three weeks, oil field businesses may rent out rooms for months, Karle stated.

Crew camps do not have control over their workers outside the fence, he added. Commission Carson Steiner asked if hotels had control over their residents once they left their hotels, but Karle said there is a difference between hotel and crew camp tenants.

“The environment lends itself to more responsibility,” he said, adding hotel residents are not all “model citizens,” but they tend to behave in a better tempered manner.

The commissioners felt the assessment of the crew camps was unfair.

“I would make the argument that right now we have a number of unregulated man camps in the city of Dickinson through our hotels,” Commissioner Klayton Oltmanns said. “When you have Accommodate International, who’s currently housing 6,000 military members, I would say their expertise in dealing with young workers or young military personnel … would be second to none and certainly higher than the hotel industry, who is, like our community, just stepping into this realm.”

Hotels were left out of meetings and didn’t have access to documents, the vice president said. The minutes of the meetings are available on the city website, Johnson said. The city also held open meetings, he added.

“If you’ve been shut out, it is because you have ignored the meetings,” he said.

The process can be talked about at public meetings, but decisions are not made at those meetings, Karle said.

“The decision is made well before the meeting,” he said. “We made our point, and we were put aside.”

Karle asked the camp be scaled back to 500 units and build gradually.

“We’re not looking to be protected,” he said. “We just don’t want to be killed.”

Accommodate plans to phase the project starting in October with 1,000 units.

If the camp is successful, it could add more units up to 3,000. The company plans to finish the project late in 2013.

Accommodate must meet 13 conditions required by the development agreement, including submitting a plan for reclamation, getting approval on its emergency plan from Stark County Emergency Services and receiving approval from the Dickinson Fire Department.