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Frustrations mount over temporary layoffs at Laurel generating plant

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Nov 14, 2023

LAUREL — Just months after the Laurel natural gas plant was shut down for environmental concerns, causing temporary layoffs of construction workers, another temporary work disruption has struck.

David Morris is a union electrician and said he and his coworkers were told to leave work Monday afternoon without warning.

"This happened yesterday. We found about 2:00 or 2:30 and we're off-site probably about 3:30 to 4:00. They came out in the field and said 'get your tools, head to the front gate, we are done'," said Morris.

He says there’s still a lot of construction on the plant left to happen, estimating it's between 70% and 80% completed.

Those layoffs, at least for most were short-lived.

"It was a smooth transition, the project progress continues... This is a change in the EPC contractor, but it doesn’t modify Northwestern Energy’s commitment to hire union workers for the contract," said Jo Dee Black, a public relations specialist with NorthWestern Energy, on Tuesday.

Black says more than 100 of those workers returned to work Tuesday, as a new company, Fagen Incorporated, took over as the new engineering procurement and construction company.

As for electricians like Morris though, whether he’s back working in Laurel has yet to be determined.

"Their plan is to hire union again so, they put the calls in the hall, if they put the jobs out there, we’ll take them and end up back out there. As of right now, it remains to be seen," Morris added.

These temporary layoffs were different from a halt in work in April, when about 110 workers were laid off following a ruling from Yellowstone County Judge Michael Moses revoking NorthWestern Energy's permit, saying the company had failed to fully evaluate the plant's greenhouse gas emissions and impact on air quality. Work was later restarted.

NorthWestern Energy expects the plant to start operating in the summer of 2024.