Routt commissioners OK ‘man camp’; say regulations allowing such housing need changes
On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Routt County Commissioners approved Peabody Energy’s proposed “man camp” to house miners, though they weren’t thrilled about it.
The camp is needed to house miners working in Peabody-owned Twentymile Mine, which is currently looking to fill about 80 job openings. Still, commissioners expressed concern that more of these camps would be proposed in the future as a solution to the area’s ongoing housing crisis.
“I don’t like the idea of man camps,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “I think it is a poor way to address our affordable housing situation.”
County regulations, including the updated master plan, allow for temporary housing like this, as long as it contains fewer than 50 people and is connected to a specific development — a phrase in the regulations that Corrigan noted was concerningly vague.
While a shortage of employees in Steamboat in general likely wouldn’t meet that standard, commissioners noted that development at Steamboat Ski Resort or at the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch probably would. Neither of those entities has suggested they would be interested in taking that step, but commissioners said they might want to revisit county regulations allowing such camps before anyone does.
“How would we say no?” Corrigan asked. “We just said yes to that, how would that be different?”
Each of the commissioners expressed reservations about the proposal, but also noted that it does meet regulations for temporary workforce housing in the unincorporated county.
The permit approved Tuesday will expire in three years, after which the housing will be removed and the area restored to how it is now. Commissioners said they likely wouldn’t be willing to extend that beyond the current three-year window, though the makeup of the three-person board will change by then.
“I understand that Twentymile finds itself in a unique situation, needing to ramp up quickly and bring workers in,” Commissioner Tim Redmond said. “This is a temporary situation. If you find yourself in need of housing down the road, I also would not be inclined to extend this man camp.”
Commissioner Beth Melton, whose term ends in January, said she didn’t think Peabody’s need for housing would subside anytime soon, so she encouraged the company to look for other workforce housing options over the next three years.
Following approval of the proposal, commissioners had a more casual discussion with planning staff about changes they could make to the regulations. In that conversation, Corrigan suggested imposing a moratorium on similar proposals until county regulations could be amended.
Planning Director Kristy Winser said they were currently working on regulation updates, which will include regulations around man camps. Winser said she wasn’t aware of any other man camp proposals in the works.
“We have our to-do list if you will, and this is one of the items that have been on the list that we definitely want to address in the core update,” Winser said.
The Twentymile camp will include 16 skids similar to what oil and gas companies use to house workers while drilling a new well, and will accommodate 48 miners at a time. The miners living in these units often have families and homes elsewhere, and would only utilize these units when in the Yampa Valley to work at the mine.
“We are currently recruiting across multiple states trying to fill 80 positions at the mine, and with that comes a need for housing,” said Nick Aromando, Manager of Technical Services and Engineering at Twentymile Mine, in the meeting.
Key issues in the proposal involved how wastewater would be disposed of, storage of personal items outside and safety in general. Aromando said wastewater would be brought to the city of Craig, storage of outside items wouldn’t be allowed, and that they plan to have rules for the camp like no pets, no firearms and no drugs.
Ted Akers, whose home is about 1,200 feet away from the proposed camp, asked commissioners to require an environmental impact study or that the camp be moved to a different area of Peabody’s land so it would have less impacts on his property. He also said he believed the man camp would negatively impact Greater Sandhill Cranes’ use of nearby wetlands.
“The proposed man camp will push the birds’ flight path west into the path of planes descending into the (Yampa Valley Regional) Airport, possibly endangering passengers,” Akers said. “We feel an environmental impact study is needed regarding the impact of the proposed man camp on (cranes) and our watershed.”
Commissioners acknowledged there likely are impacts on Akers, the only neighbor in the area, but those impacts don’t rise to the level of “significant offsite impacts” that would be grounds for denying the proposal.
Commissioners also removed a condition Planning Commission asked for that recommended recycling and composting be employed in the camp, as that isn’t currently required in the county.
“Our regulations do not require recycling and compost,” Melton said. “Maybe they should … but I think it’s problematic to start adding conditions to individual applicants outside of our regulations.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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