Oil money is good for the Billings economy, but some of the noise and dust from the new business that comes with it are bothering local residents.
A task force meeting held Thursday night addressed the concerns of people who live near the Billings location of Highland Projects, a Canadian company that manufactures specialized steel tanks used by drilling rigs exploring oil-bearing formations in North Dakota, Alberta, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and Montana.
Highland Projects, of Sundre, Alberta, opened its second location at 301 Orchard Lane, the former Anderson Steel Co. plant., in 2011 and sees potential for the location to become the company’s U.S. headquarters.
The impact of the industrial company, resident Kevin Nelson said, has left the neighborhood exhausted due to constant noise pollution from pounding steel and air pollution from sandblasting and painting procedures.
The city limit line separates Nelson and his neighbors from Highland Projects, which is located on county land.
Yellowstone County attorney chief deputy Daniel Schwarz said the property was zoned special review with no conditions in 1979.
“The zoning is water under the bridge, and there really is no way to revisit it,” Schwarz said. “It’s zoned as an industrial facility in the county, and there is no way the city can force annexation.”
Because the company is within county jurisdiction, noise barriers and other similar city regulations do not pertain to it. Technically, Schwarz said, the company could operate around the clock under their zoning jurisdiction.
“But we have tried to accommodate the residents’ concerns and complaints on our own accord by trying to mirror city regulations — and have made efforts to be good neighbors,” general manager David Goodridge said.
Goodridge said the company has tried to operate when possible during city-regulated industrial business hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The company also built a painting and sandblasting tent made of a metal frame and concrete foundation that is meant to capture all “fugitive sand.” He has attended several of the task force meetings addressing residents’ concerns.
Goodridge said the company initially leased the property and facility because it would have been hard for them to duplicate the structure in the area.
Initially, the company operated in Billings with five employees, but increased to 60, all of which, Goodridge said, are from the Billings area.
Nelson said nobody is interested in running Highland Projects out of business.
“We see that the business is good for Billings and has created a lot of jobs,” Nelson said. “But, the problem is that it’s in a bad spot and needs to be in an industrial area, not across the street from a residential area.”
Resident Duane Branger said the solution is right in Highland’s yard — a steel frame building that the company manufactures and sells to clients.
“They build what would remedy the paint fumes and dust,” he said. “And I’m sure it would be at a discounted price. When it comes to being proactive, the answer is right there.”
Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund said much of the dust could be attributed to how dry the year has been.
Elsie Arntzen, House District 53 representative, said the Thursday meeting held at the Moose Lodge marked the fifth meeting about the issue. She said the Department of Environmental Quality as well as representatives from RiverStone Health have visited the site, but both organizations didn’t see circumstances severe enough to finance an air quality study.
“That is where the challenge is — how can people quantify the evidence and impact,” she asked.
If enough complaints are made to the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office, Sheriff Mike Linder said they would then send the investigation to the Yellowstone County Attorney’s office as a civil nuisance complaint for further review.
An investigation by the sheriff’s office would include gathering evidence such as duration and strength of odor; duration, loudness, source and time of day of noise pollution; and duration and source of dust, debris and paint. Evidence must be gathered by interview, photographs and other documentation sources, Linder said.
Complaints must come from a “considerable number of persons” from a nuisance as described as an ongoing situation.
“It’s important that we try to mitigate these issues so business can get back to business and residents can get back to enjoying their neighborhood,” Arntzen said.