Campsites for oil and gas workers benefit WV economy, but not without issues

CLARKSBURG — As the oil and gas industry of North Central West Virginia began to thrive once again, and pipeline workers began to pour in from across the United States, property owners like Mike Gallo saw an opportunity.

The influx of workers into the area meant an influx of people in need of a place to stay, and so Gallo and others offered their land for campers and recreational vehicles.

Gallo invested several thousand dollars to install electrical boxes and run water and sewage to accommodate four RV sites on his land. He now collects revenue from leasing these sites.

According to local government officials, campsites like Gallo’s are increasingly common in the area.

“We are seeing a lot of that in the county,” said Lewis County Administrator Cindy Whetsell. “It’s a necessary thing for construction and going forward with the future of the oil and gas industry, so that’s a positive thing for everyone.”

Gallo said campsites like his represent “each individual person trying to make a little bit of money off this oil and gas. We’re not like the Walmarts and the Tire Americas and all the motels and restaurants who are bringing in millions of dollars — literally millions of dollars — on all these oil and gas men. We’re just small businessmen trying to make just a little bit out of this large piece of pie.”

According to Whetsell, the influx of people has meant more money spent at local service centers, markets and restaurants.

The impact on property tax revenue will not be fully understood until about February, but an increase is expected, she said.

“Certainly, we have a lot of farmers that have taken what used to be farmland and turned it into rental property, which changes the tax classification and will bring more revenue to the county,” she said.

While the practice has benefitted local economies, it not been without some controversy, however.

Some sites have been installed without proper reporting and permitting, according to Harrison County Planning Department Director Charlotte Shaffer.

In addition to necessary business licenses, campsites are required to have a permit from a local health department. Depending on the situation, other permits may also be required, Shaffer said.

Any digging or land work would require a permit through the Planning Department, Shaffer said.

For most sites, this permit would be necessary, as digging is required to install water and sewer lines, according to Harrison County Commissioner David Hinkle.

Permitting allows officials to ensure public safety, according to Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department Sanitarian Steve Hinerman.

Health Department inspections help ensure wastewater is not going into local water bodies, campers are properly spaced for fire safety and garbage is not accumulating and attracting vermin, he said.

Those not hooked up to a city sewer system must receive additional permitting, Hinerman said.

Septic tanks are permitted through local health departments, while underground injection control wells are handled by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to DEP spokesperson Jacob Glance.

Permitting allows for the protection of one neighbor from another neighbor, according to Harrison County Commission President Ron Watson.

At times, however, there is often little regulatory agencies can do to address issues.

In Lewis County, for example, commissioners held a fill permit appeal hearing in August after a resident claimed earthwork on a neighbor’s property to allow for campsites had created flooding on surrounding properties.

A letter issued by the Federal Emergency Management area indicated the fill would not impact the floodplain, according to Whetsell.

Because the issue dealt with stormwater rather than floodplain flooding, the county determined it did not have authority on the matter and the appeal was denied.

“So, essentially, anything that has been done at this point would be a civil matter between the two parties,” she said.

Watson said he has seen single RVs in yards hooked up only with an extension cord and a hose for water.

Ensuring officials know the locations of the campsites is vital for emergency response, according to Whetsell.

The Harrison County Commission discussed how to address issues related to the campsites at a meeting Wednesday.

County staff will reach out to local health departments and public service districts to make sure the county is notified of the sites.

Commissioners also asked Sheriff Robert Matheny for his office’s help in identifying sites that may not be known to the Planning Department or Assessor’s Office.

“They’re all over the place. A lot of our problem areas result from some of the encampments,” Matheny said.

Largely, however, officials’ hands are tied.

“The only way we will be able to do anything with them is through zoning, and then we would only be able to say where you can and can’t have RV parks,” Shaffer told commissioners.

Gallo said he believes health department regulations already in place are sufficient.

“Say all these campsites that you all want to do this and do that to, and we have to shut some down or can’t add more to, say these campers are staying an hour away,” he said. “That’s less money Harrison County is making off these campers coming in here buying gas, going to the grocery stores, staying, eating at the restaurants, going to Walmart. This is less tax money that’s going to be here in Harrison County because they’re going to be an hour away.”

Original Article: WV News