Workers, hunters descend on Craig

Book rooms early for fall

In a town of 500 hotel rooms, it's going to take trailer spaces, campsites, apartments -- even spare bedrooms -- to accommodate the more than 1,200 workers the energy industry will bring through this area in the fall.

That's on top of the hundreds of visitors who already will be staying in Moffat County because of hunting season.

"It will be one of those situations that's opposite of normal -- we'll be sending our leftovers to Steamboat Springs," Craig Chamber of Commerce Director Cathy Vanatta said.

Between two pipeline projects, a power plant outage and hunting season, Craig will have more than it can handle.

"I see it as a problem for the hunters who are coming," Vanatta said. "They're used to calling when they get here, and there aren't going to be any rooms at the inn."

Vidya Patel, manager of Craig's Super 8 hotel, said she has booked 58 of her 61 rooms for most of October and November and will hit 100 percent occupancy by the time hunting season opens.

The Holiday Inn already has reserved a block of rooms to accommodate some of the 250 to 300 workers who are expected to be in Craig for the Craig Station Power Plant outage.

Unit 3 of the power plant will be taken off line Sept. 24 through Nov. 6 for maintenance.

"Basically it's a big tune-up," Tri-State Generation and Transmission spokesman Jim Van Someren said.

Laura Dunn, manager of Village Inn, remembers how busy the restaurant was last spring when the plant was undergoing a retrofit -- the peak of which brought 800 contractors. She's not sure how to accommodate nearly twice that at a time when she's already expanded her staff to accommodate hunters.

"During hunting season we get stomped on," she said. "More people is great for business, but it's stressful. You've got to hire early and train early so you're prepared."

Larry Drader, president of Entrega Gas Pipeline company, estimates his 327-mile pipeline project will bring 600 people to Moffat County at the height of construction and they'll stay for more than two months. Phase one of the project will see a crew start in Wamsutter, Wyo., and another near Meeker and they'll work until they meet in the middle -- the Yampa River. About 300 people will be working between Wamsutter and the Yampa and another 300 will be working between Meeker and the Yampa, he said.

Accommodations for all those workers will be taken care of by the contractor who hires them, Drader said. The bid for that work has not yet been awarded.

Entrega officials hope to begin construction in August. Land Acquisition Coordinator Denny Needham said Entrega has completed two different housing availability studies.

"This project is going to impact the community particularly because it's at the height of tourist season," he said. "It's going to be tough to accommodate all these people."

Pipeline contractors, he said, are used to working in sparsely populated areas and have in the past worked with private property owners to provide housing or camping areas.

"Contractors get really creative because they run into this problem a lot," Needham said. "This could be a little difficult, but on the flip side, it's going to be a tremendous economic development. The positive cash flow and economic impact is phenomenal."

A study completed by Peterson Consulting Services estimates $4.1 million in wages will be paid to workers during the time they're in Moffat County. The project is expected to generate $6.3 million in revenue for small businesses and $4.6 million in retail sales in Moffat County.

The second pipeline will follow nearly the same route and will bring an estimated 600 workers at nearly the same time.

Joe Hollier, public relations specialist for El Paso Corporation said the project will average about 300 workers, but will peak at 600. He anticipates starting construction around Meeker the first week of October and finishing at the end of January.

"It should be good for business in that area, that's for sure," Hollier said. "It'll be good to have rental property at that time."

Maybe too good.

Tammie Thompson, director of sales and marketing for the Holiday Inn said it's getting difficult to find employees enough employees for average months, staffing for 100 percent will be nearly impossible.

"It's going to be insane," she said.

But, they'll accommodate.

The Holiday Inn is already 100 percent booked for the second combined hunting season in November and is booking a crew that will be in town at the same time to work on a coal mine dragline.

"We will be sending people out of the community at this rate," Thompson said. "We're not going to be able to accommodate all these people. Talk about getting it all at once."

Vanatta calls it feast or famine and said the Chamber of Commerce's best advice is to "book early."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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