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March 2, 2016

Where are they living?

By Kate Johnson

Influx numbers are in and they are high. At the most recent Mercer County Economic Development (MCED) meeting, industry updates came out with big numbers in the near future. This begged the question, “Where are all these people staying?”
The meeting opened up with a sigh of relief at the most recent ruling and halt to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. However, all unanimously agreed this is the time to continue working on a solution so, when and if it does come back, they have answers. It was also reported that the state Health Department has stopped everything on their end of the Clean Power Plan.
John Phillips’s first question was directed at A.T. Funkhouser, who represents Dakota Gasification Plant, asking him if they have heard anything from their contractors about workforce housing. Funkhouser responded that they hadn’t heard “a peep.”
Moving along to Brad Zimmerman with Coyote Station, who had a lot to report on their facility. Zimmerman reported that there will be a 10 week “major” outage with $24 million invested – the majority of which is going to the boiler modifications. He also mentioned tensions are high, but things are going well out there. They will be coming down March 21, to which they will begin their transition to the new mine. Zimmerman said they hit a point where they are fully staffed, however two of their operators resigned at the end of the year and there is a “thin pool” when trying to find good qualified people.
Bill Suter with Coteau Properties is also in the staffing process, looking for diesel mechanics to which the interviews began last week.
“Our pool, we thought would be a little bit strong with the slowdown of the Bakken, but we got some numbers and are still looking for good quality diesel mechanics,” says Suter.
He mentioned they have a decent amount to interview and hope to get down to a quality three or four. Coteau will also be looking for temporary welders starting in March.
Phillips asked about their temporary hires and when they will begin. Coteau receives their temporary staff through Dakota Staffing and those hires will begin in April.
Great River Energy had a short report by Anne Hanson reporting they would be having a six-week outage starting March 12 through April 22 with a total of 500 contractors at their unit at Coal Creek Station.
Funkhouser also gave a short report on Dakota Gasification and how many extra bodies they have working out there. Currently there are well over 300 workers out there, and he also mentioned there are a couple openings for operators; however they are not hiring anybody at this time.
Phillips asked if the urea project was on schedule, to which Funkhouser responded “sure.” Both agreed the weather has been in their favor.
Although Antelope Valley Station representation was absent, other industry figures said they would be seeing an influx in their numbers, guessing them to be somewhere around 300.
Once industry reports were finished, Darrold Bertsch asked a question that was directed at everyone. “Five hundred people there, and 300 people here – where are all these people staying?” asked Bertsch.

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