Kingan, Schrader represent Wright at Douglas meeting about boom

By: 
Colin Tiernan colin@hpsentinel.com

While Wright is not in the same boat as Converse County when it comes to a lack of housing, Campbell and Wright officials last week joined in a regional discussion about the issue with the coming boom.
The intent of the gathering was to prepareg for an influx of workers from myriad energy projects. Wright Mayor Ralph Kingan and Wright Town Councilman Doug Schrader represented the Town of Wright.
Housing is likely to be a challenge in the region over the next few years and government officals hope to tackle that challenge now, before the problem escalates even further.
Wright’s currently in a good spot.
“It’s just starting to fill up the trailer park,” Kingan said in an interview, noting that he believes the majority of those workers are pipe welders. “The motels have been pretty much full.”
More than 20 government officials and community stakeholders brainstormed housing solutions. Representatives from Douglas, Wright, Rolling Hills, Lost Springs and Glenrock all participated in the discussion. 
“I thought it was an excellent meeting,” Kingan said. “It was good information and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it.”
Converse County Commissioner Robert Short used a sonic boom analogy to describe Converse and southern Campbell County’s situation.
The sound barrier’s about 700 mph,” Short said. “We’re doing about 699 mph . . . It’s busy, it’s really busy just north of here. There’s a lot of rigs doing a lot of work.”
Short mentioned the multi-million dollar energy projects that seem to be going on left and right in the county: Gas plants, miles upon miles of new pipeline, transloading facilities, compressor stations and hundreds of new wells. There are new wind farms, which require hundreds of temporary workers during the construction phase, and gravel pits, which portend development, too.
“Personally I think it’s good to get ahead of it, because it’s coming,” Kingan said. “It ain’t a boom, it’s just been a nice steady growth for the whole year basically.”
Wright officials now have the task of compiling data and handing the numbers off to analysts, who in turn will conduct a housing study. Cindy Porter, of Douglas’ The Enterprise, identified a company that can provide Wright and Converse County with a housing study. The company could begin conducting the study after the first of the year and should have a final version ready after four months. Municipalities and stakeholders could share the cost of the study. Wright’s share of the $24,000 might be in the $8-10,000 range.
Officials noted that there’s no time to waste when addressing the housing problem. 
Porter described the study as “in-depth.” A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant could help defray the cost if the application can convincingly tie the study to employment needs. Some Douglas businesses and organizations have difficulties hiring staff because of housing shortcomings.
The study could help government officials better understand real versus perceived housing needs, too. Addressing the housing issue is not as simple as building heaps of housing as quickly as possible. No one wants to be stuck with deserted apartment complexes when the boom ends, representatives pointed out.
“Currently we don’t have enough housing,” Porter said. “We know that we don’t, but we don’t know exactly what we need. Do we need starter homes? Do we need nice, higher-end homes? Do we need apartments?”

THE NEEDS
Toward the end of the meeting, the group settled on developing a sub-committee tasked with two goals: Identify ideal sites for short-term housing, potentially man camps and longer term housing, and start developing a set of best practices to guide housing going forward.
Part of the challenge is that Converse County lacks zoning outside the city limits, which makes planned, organized rural development tricky.
“You can’t do a permit in the county without zoning,” Willox explained. He made clear that he is “not advocating, not advocating, not advocating” for zoning.
A lack of zoning can lead to some undesirable situations.
“I drove up to Gillette the other day and you already have man camps in the county,” Douglas City Administrator Jonathan Teichert said. “More worrisome to me, we have places where there’s three, four camper trailers parked around a utility pole . . . I don’t know if emergency services would ever find them.”
Meter poles have addresses, but the individuals living around the pole are not required to inform anyone of their whereabouts, they said. Government officials also continued to stress that the modern iteration of a man camp holds little in common with its predecessors.
“They have a better etiquette in that man camp then you do on a city street on Saturday night,” Glenrock Building Inspector Scott Gilbert said. “Oil companies have changed huge . . . there’s no shenanigans.”
The Converse County commissioners have begun to hear inquiries about larger man camps, ones that house in the range of 200 to 300 workers, but there aren’t any of that size currently in the county.
The boom will stress housing, but it’ll also put strain on childcare services, law enforcement, infrastructure and water. Right now, local officials hope to address those issues before the boom arrives in earnest in 2019-2020.
Wright could be in better shape than Converse County municipalities. Kingan noted that Wright has plenty of homes for sale, RV sites available and trailer park spots open.
“Nothing . . . has overwhelmed the town yet,” Kingan said. 

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