It was past time to get out and look around a bit

RBC — In the nearly three months I have been here, I have spent most of my time covering events either in Meeker or Rangely.
Beyond that, I haven’t ventured out much. There’s been lots going on, right here in Rio Blanco County, to keep me plenty busy. I’m either working or … let’s see, I’m working.
I know, get a life, right?
I don’t mind, though. I enjoy what I do. Besides, it’s given me opportunities to get know the people and the towns in the county. But people keep telling me I need to get out of town every once in awhile.
OK, I have been to Rifle, twice. Once to pick up some inserts to run in the newspaper. While there, I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Good food; lousy service.
This past week, however, I explored some new areas.
First, I drove out to the Piceance Basin. I had heard so much about the area, but I had never been out there.
I attended the com-munity bar-becue last Thursday, put on by Williams Energy, in celebration of its 100th year in business, which, in itself, is impressive.
The event included tours of the new Willow Creek Gas Processing Plant, as well as a barbecue meal — which was delicious, by the way — served at the old Rock Creek School.
The energy companies have their detractors, for sure. More on that later. But in the limited dealings I have had with the some of the Williams folks, they strike me as professional and knowledgeable.
Jeff Harvey is project leader for the construction project of the Willow Creek facility. Whether you approve of the plant or not, it is impressive how quickly the plant is taking shape.
There are 300 people working on the plant, which, when it is up and running, will process 450 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. That sounded like a lot, but I had nothing to relate it to. So I looked on the Internet and found where Enterprise’s Meeker gas plant, which went online last year, has a capacity to process 750 cubic feet a day. And a second Enterprise plant is currently under construction, which will double that processing capacity.
There’s enough room, at the site of the Williams plant, to build two more facilities, Harvey said, without having to clear any more land.
“We are direct competitors with the Enterprise facility,” Harvey said.
Construction of the Williams plant, which began June 1, has been fast and furious. Workers are trying to have buildings enclosed by September, in plenty of time before winter sets in, which will “shorten the construction window,” Harvey said.
The goal is to have the plant online sometime in the third quarter of 2009, best case scenario, by July.
“That’s our target,” Harvey said. “It depends on what winter does.”
Asked about the price tag, Harvey said, “The budget we have for this facility is $350 million.”
He said plants like Willow Creek are calculated, conservatively, to have a life expectancy of 20 years. He said the company had plants that had more than doubled that lifespan.
Asked where the workers come from who are constructing the plant — the contractor is Rust — Harvey said 80 percent of them come from the Gulf Coast area, states like Alabama and Louisiana.
I talked to another person associated with Williams — he is involved in arranging housing for workers — and he told me all of the new apartments, located near the Meeker Recreation Center, had been leased for Williams workers.
So, just how fast is work progressing on the new Williams plant?
Put it this way, Harvey said, “That site was, basically, dirt 10 weeks ago.”
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Of course, not everyone is thrilled about the presence of the energy companies and how it has altered life on the Western Slope. As with anything of this impact, there are tradeoffs. There are winners, and there are losers. That will continue to be an ongoing debate in Colorado, as it should be. So, when one Williams employee asked a rancher, who is a neighbor of the gas plant, what he thought, he said, “I wish it would all go away.” I at least give the Williams employee credit for asking the question, even though I’m guessing it wasn’t the answer she expected … or wanted to hear.
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I also “got of town” Saturday and made my first-ever trip to Grand Junction. OK, it was a blind date, set up by a friend. But that’s a whole other column.
I found Grand Junction all right, though it took longer to get there than I thought it would. But I did have to call, uh, my date — three times — to get directions on how to find the “old” downtown area.
Like I said, I don’t get out much.