With lack of sale, CH2M Hill Kenai unit to close

It isn’t over yet, but employees of CH2M Hill’s Kenai Business Unit are being told to use the next five days to prepare for unemployment.


Denis Leblanc, director of operations and management for CH2M Hill, visited the company’s Kenai warehouse and told a group of about 15 employees that while he has a meeting with a company interested in buying the unit, they should protect their own interests and actively search for other jobs.

“My biggest regret is that those conversations have gone very, very slow,” he said of the negotiations with the potential buyer. “I had hoped to have all of this done three or four weeks ago. It’s not my schedule, it’s the buyer’s schedule.”

LeBlanc and others in the company’s management team met with Kenai-based employees for more than an hour Wednesday to discuss changes in benefits, retirement plans and options for continuing with the company.

“We are continuing to do what we promised that we would do which is to market the business unit aggressively,” LeBlanc said.

Despite the looming 60-day sell or close deadline — which the company announced in early August — LeBlanc said employees had not heavily utilized the workforce development services the company offered to help with the transition.

“We want you to be aggressively taking advantage of (our personnel) as well as the State of Alaska and other opportunities for unemployment,” LeBlanc said. “Quite frankly we’re a little bit concerned that there wasn’t enough of that effort — at least being witnessed by us — and one of the reasons that we came down a couple of weeks ago to prompt you to get in touch with the management team was to ensure that you’re looking out for yourself.”

The unit is scheduled to close Monday.

LeBlanc outlined several new opportunities for the company, including a recently acquired contract for program management of the Alaska Standalone Pipeline, opportunities in Shell Oil Exploration, and a newly expanded contract with BP, that he said made the company an attractive one to work for.

“That’s not going to help us by September 30 obviously, but it’s exciting that we’re continuing to grow and expand our business,” he said.

In August when the company announced the closure of the Kenai Business Unit, LeBlanc said it was because the unit did not have the volume of work to justify keeping it open. He reiterated that message Wednesday.

“We’re looking for larger, more meaningful, more robust opportunities,” he said.

James “Clint” Stokes said he was worried that employees on his team who operate at the Swanson River facility were being overlooked for jobs because their contract extends past the company’s September 30 deadline.

“I know several of us have put applications out and things and we really haven’t heard anything back,” he said. “You guys are saying keep at it and finish this time out.”

LeBlanc said the team working at the Swanson River field was exemplary and the company was working on options to keep them employed.

“As far as I know everybody out there on the crew, we’re all committed to finishing,” Stokes said. “We’d like to finish our contract as long as we know that we’re not on the back burner when it comes time to go somewhere else.”

LeBlanc told Stokes and other Swanson River employees that they were lucky in that their contract extended four to six weeks beyond other employees of the Kenai Business Unit.

“I think we just wanted a little bit of reassurance that (we) are going to be OK,” Stokes said.

LeBlanc said the crew would be set for the next several weeks.

“Then, like everybody else we’ve got to make sure you’re OK for the future,” LeBlanc said.

Several pieces of equipment from the Kenai Business Unit have been removed and sold at auction in other parts of the state. LeBlanc said close to $2 million of capital expenditures will be deferred by the company next year because of other equipment that will be available from the closure of the unit.

Alongside the facility in North Kenai, two camps on the west side of the Cook Inlet will also be up for sale.

LeBlanc said the company has a 40-man camp and a 45-man camp that it uses to house oil and gas exploration workers.

“So companies like Apache will come in and rent or ConocoPhillips will rent our rooms because they have crews over there and need places to sleep,” he said.

Several employees at the afternoon meeting said they were hoping to stay on with the company.

Michael Thornton, a heavy equipment operator, said he had been with the company for three years and had four applications in for other positions within the company.

Stokes said he had applied for three positions on the North Slope within CH2M Hill.

He’s nervous, he said, because he has not heard back from any of them yet.

“I’m concerned that there would still be an opportunity in six weeks when my contract is done,” he said.

He said he wanted to stay with the company.

“They’ve been real good to me. It’s a good company to work for, I get along with everybody. They’ve got competitive pay. I’ve worked for other oil field companies that really didn’t have the safety we do and up until six weeks ago I thought it was pretty good,” he said. “As long as everybody continues doing what they say they’re going to do — which is helping us get positions somewhere else — then I’ll still feel that they’re looking out for their employees.”

Neither Doug Ferguson, a talent recruiter at CH2M Hill who has been working at the Kenai facility to find some of its 65 employees other jobs, nor Kenai’s ONM Manager Gary McMillan were able to say exactly how many employees had found other jobs.

McMillan said it was “a lot.”

Ferguson said at least ten had been placed within the company and several others had pending offers.

“The problem that I’ve had to explain to them all is that the guys on the slope and the projects they have up there, they are not on this timetable of September 30,” Ferguson said. “For as many of these guys that I can, I’m trying to get a final resolution.”


Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.


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