Making space: Housing concerns come with proposed fertilizer plantWith the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. projecting 2,000 construction employees to begin working in 2014 on the proposed $1.2 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant in Spiritwood, N.D., the question for Stutsman County will soon become how to house the influx of temporary residents.
By: Brian Willhide, The Jamestown Sun
By Brian Willhide
The Jamestown Sun
With the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. projecting 2,000 construction employees to begin working in 2014 on the proposed $1.2 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant in Spiritwood, N.D., the question for Stutsman County will soon become how to house the influx of temporary residents.
CHS Inc.’s proposed plant would be the largest private construction project in terms of investment in the history of North Dakota, according to Connie Ova, CEO of JSDC.
Even without taking the proposed plant into account, the 2012 North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment’s Housing Forecast released earlier this week projects a 12 percent population growth in Stutsman County from 21,100 residents in 2010 to nearly 23,600 in 2025.
Also, the city of Jamestown is expected to grow from about 15,400 residents in 2010 to more than 17,200 in 2025.
“We did not take into account the fertilizer plant going up when preparing this report, but there is going to be some additional interesting competition for housing if, in fact, that fertilizer plant goes up,” said Dr. Richard Rathge, professor and researcher with the Center for Social Research at North Dakota State University.
The Center for Social Research at NDSU prepared the report, which examined population and housing trends in addition to the need for housing in all counties and major cities in North Dakota.
It showcases data tabulated from 2000 to 2010 and projects as far ahead as 2025.
Concerns for the area
One of the trends that concerns Rathge in the Jamestown and Stutsman County area is the combination of baby boomers and Spiritwood construction workers seeking the same type of housing.
“Baby boomers are starting to get to retirement and getting to that age where they’ll be looking at housing units, mainly rentals, that accommodate their needs much better,” Rathge said. “Those same types of housing units are what those workers at that plant could very well be looking for also, and thus the demand goes up significantly.”
Bringing in 2,000 construction workers to a housing market not traditionally considered to be robust could be problematic to the Jamestown and Stutsman County community, according to Mike Anderson, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.
“Just hearing those numbers in terms of the amount of workers coming in, I think the area should be very concerned,” he said. “Even for a much more robust market, it would be difficult to absorb the housing needs for that many workers in a short period of time.”
Considering the rapid expansion that has taken place out west where energy production has been booming since 2006, Anderson said a mini-version of that in Jamestown is not far-fetched.
“The immediate need is to start brainstorming how to accommodate those construction crews coming to town while at the same time not driving out permanent residents in town,” he said.
In many instances in western North Dakota, Anderson said costs have gone up significantly with the boom, in not only housing, but retail products, goods and services as well.
Temporary housing for the influx of workers such as crew camps may be a reasonable option, Anderson said.
“When they (construction workers) come, they’re going to stay wherever they can — hotels, apartments, rental homes, etc. — so by building permanent housing, you have to ask yourself ‘Who’s going to be around to live in that housing once the plant is built and those temporary workers are gone?’” he said.
The city of Jamestown is currently looking into refining and developing crew camp and zoning ordinances, according to Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen.
“We know housing is going to be an issue when we increase our population both with temporary workers and the full-time workers once the plant is up and running, which is one of the reasons we’re looking at not only our development ordinances to help influence building in Jamestown, but we’re also taking a look at zoning and crew camp ordinances as well, if in fact there will be a demand for such crew camps,” Andersen said.
Some believe that demand is likely to hit this area, such as Rosalie Wibstad, Realtor with Century 21 Heritage Realty in Jamestown.
“You’re almost going to have to build them (crew camps),” said Wibstad, who works with both rentals and home sales with Century 21. “Otherwise, you build up the permanent housing market and once those construction workers leave, you’re left with a high number of vacancies.”
Wibstad said the current rental market in Jamestown is sparse as it is.
“We’re pretty much full, and that’s what I’ve been hearing from most everybody else as well,” she said.
If, in fact, crew camps are brought into the area, Stutsman County Auditor/Chief Operating Officer Casey Bradley said there is still much work and research to do while examining the zoning requirements for those types of housing.
“We’re in the process right now, mainly just discussions we’re having and also looking at some of the best practices that have worked out west to see what is working well in that region,” he said.
However, this is not a new issue that the county has been approached about, Bradley said.
“There has been interest expressed from outside entities before about possibly bringing in crew camps, so it’s not as though this is something we’ve never discussed before, but now we’re just going to have to really start looking into it a bit deeper,” he said.
Plans and discussions are very much in the same stage for the Stutsman County Commission, according to Commission Chairman Mark Klose.
“We’ve still got a ways to go with all of this,” he said. “We haven’t discussed (crew camps) yet, but I’m on the board (of directors) with the JSDC and there are going to be some discussions forthcoming. It’s certainly something that quite obviously is going to have some impact with that kind of construction crew coming in.”
Klose said the commission and the JSDC will be continuing in the near future to work with developers to see exactly what kind of plan needs to be put in place to accommodate all the workers.
‘Not too late’
By no means is it too late for the area to prepare for the anticipated influx, however, according to Mike Anderson. He said the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency has yet to closely examine the possible effects on the Jamestown and Stutsman County housing markets due to the proposed plant, but believes a number of things must now be taken into account to ensure the area is prepared.
“It’s going to depend on a few factors, especially the local planning commission doing some brainstorming, the city’s willingness to make decisions in a timely fashion and accounting for the amount of infrastructure that’s already in place there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s too late to make such preparations, but there’s also not a lot of time if everything goes according to the proposed timeline.”
While not on quite the same scale, the most recent large undertaking that the city of Jamestown and Stutsman County have undergone was from November 2007 to October 2010 with Great River Energy’s approximately $437 million Spiritwood Station coal-fired generating plant. According to a GRE release, plant construction brought in about 480 workers.
Overlapping for a brief time with the Spiritwood plant, Jamestown Regional Medical Center also underwent construction from November 2009 to August 2011, bringing in up to 120 workers at its peak, according to Carey Koch, plant operations manager with JRMC.
JSDC CEO Connie Ova said that during the time those particular projects were under construction, a housing crunch around Jamestown did exist and that was without the western North Dakota oil boom having as much of an impact on Jamestown.
“You have to remember that while Spiritwood Station was starting to go up, we didn’t have nearly the effects of the oil boom and the number of people staying in this area as we do today,” she said. “Right now we’re already at a shortage in terms of rental housing, apartments and hotels. Crew camps will definitely be something that will be under serious consideration.”
During the time when Spiritwood Station was under construction, there was more availability in terms of rental housing than in the current market, according to Wibstad.
“When all those guys came in then, we were actually fine because we had a number of apartments and were able to fill them up. It was a bit of a crunch but it actually allowed us to bump up rents to the level they should have been at years prior,” she said.
It’s also important to take into account the Dakota Spirit AgEnergy hybrid ethanol plant, Ova said — which is tentatively expected to begin construction in 2013 once results from the plant’s 30-day public comment period are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The ethanol plant would bring in about 400 to 500 construction workers until completed in 2014. Current plans show little overlap between the construction of the ethanol plant and the fertilizer plant, but Ova said she can’t guarantee that plans would always go accordingly.
In terms of how well-prepared Jamestown will be, Mayor Andersen said that while everyone wishes they had more time for preparation, the city is in a good place in terms of getting ready for the future.
“You could always use more time to prepare for things, but we’re looking at all the issues and doing our best to address them right away, while also making sure we have a good plan in place for this city to grow,” she said.
Sun reporter Brian Willhide can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at email@example.com