Industry, government team up to help a town through energy boom

''I've got to see it to believe it.'' That was Dennis Ottley's reaction when he first heard about the Overthrust Industrial Association (OIA), set up to help this southwestern Wyoming town through the growing pains of an energy boom.

''I made that statement, but I ate them words,'' says Mr. Ottley, who has just stepped down as Evanston's mayor. ''I think we proved to the world that industry and local government can work together.''

There was certainly no dearth of issues for those 40-odd energy companies and Evanston to tackle.

''Impact,'' that media-hype synonym for ''effect,'' seems in this case to be the right word to describe what the oil and gas boom did to Evanston. Schools were packed to the rafters; Oil field workers were living in their cars. Construction workers bivouacked like invading armies in ''bachelor camps'' on the edge of town. Crime rates soared.

The first step in this industry-community partnership was a series of meetings, beginning in February 1981, where grievances could be aired - just in case any had gone unnoticed. Next came the establishment of a committee to present community requests to the OIA, which has given about $100 million so far - for schools, roads, water lines, sewers, and other projects. This aid is to go on as needed.

Besides passing out cash, the OIA has also retained a consulting firm, the Denver Research Group, to develop a comprehensive plan for streets, utilities, and so on, and to help the city lobby for grant money from other sources.

Given that oil companies can have something of an image problem, people hesitate to throw too many bouquets their way. City administrator Stephen Snyder observes that the OIA was pushed into being partly because of pressure from county government, which had the power to deny the building permits the companies sought.

And by the time the OIA was launched, the people of Evanston had long been in the dark as to how big a boom to expect. ''The energy companies weren't telling us much,'' Mr. Ottley says.

''But the OIA has been very good,'' says Julie Lehman, director of the city housing authority. ''And if it never did anything but facilitate communications between industry and governmental entities, it would be worth it.''

Evanston may not be your candidate for city beautiful, but Chuck McLean of the Denver Research Group gives the city high marks for the way it has coped. ''They've gotten over the impact, and now they're saying, 'Where do they want to go as a city?' ''

So far 1983 has been a breather. The big gas plants are being completed; and the transient work forces are being replaced by home-buyers and PTA-joiners. But rumors of expansions of the new plants are already trickling out.

Evanston braces for another round. Comprehensive plan in hand.


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