PARACHUTE EnCana USA has won approval from Garfield County to operate up to 31 temporary facilities housing nearly 750 natural gas development workers north of Parachute.Garfield County commissioners unanimously approved the proposal this week.Each of the facilities, known informally as man camps, may hold up to 24 employees and contractors. None would be operated more than one year under the county permits.Energy companies have used temporary housing facilities under the permission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, but the county learned it had authority to regulate them and instituted its permitting process in November.David Pesnichak, a senior planner with Garfield County, said EnCana's application is by far the largest the county has seen since the rules took effect."We recognize the magnitude of our proposal and also the possible precedent that we might be setting," EnCana permitting and right of way coordinator Brenda Linster-Herndon told commissioners.Pesnichak said other companies, such as Chevron, also are pursuing permits. "They're permitting generally what they've already been doing out on those sites," he said.County planners had recommended that commissioners approve the EnCana proposal because the housing would produce limited impacts on surrounding properties, result in less traffic on county roads and be situated on existing well pads."Hopefully it also will to some extent relieve the housing issue. ... because we're able to house workers on site rather than them taking up accommodations in town," EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said.The units will be on 27,000 acres of EnCana's 45,000-acre North Parachute Ranch property some 10 to 15 miles north of Parachute. The land formerly belonged to Unocal, which once pursued oil shale development in the region.EnCana has nine existing temporary housing facilities on the property, where it expects to have up to 15 drill rigs operating this summer. The nine units are among the 31 approved by the county under new regulations requiring special use permits for the temporary housing. Some of the other units are new, and some will involve reoccupying previous sites.The county reviewed EnCana's plans to address water and sewage service and other issues. County commissioner John Martin also quizzed EnCana officials on concerns such as law and traffic enforcement, fire protection, and possible drug abuse by workers.EnCana officials said they have a good working relationship with Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, donate money to the fire departments in Rifle and Parachute, and enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward substance abuse, doing random drug tests and quarterly searches with dogs for drugs and guns.They said workers at the housing units aren't forbidden from going to town, but work 12-hour days and are provided with good meals, Internet access and other incentives to keep them from leaving the worksite.Parachute Mayor Roy McClung wrote to Garfield County that while the onsite housing will help, the town still will see traffic impacts related to EnCana's drilling plans and is worried about overloaded intersections and the lack of funding to improve them.He suggested in the letter that the county needs to be collecting impact fees from such developments to meet highway improvement needs."That's been more of an ongoing side talk within the county as to if we should do that," Pesnichak said.
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