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South Dakota hotel owners describe the impact of Keystone’s cancellation

This is part three of a series exploring the effects of President Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline.

MIDLAND, SD— “My husband just called me… he just got fired,” Laurie Cox said, her voice shaking slightly as she put on a brave smile. But it was impossible to ignore his now crestfallen demeanor.

Cox owns a hotel in Midland, a picturesque town with a population of approximately 100 people. She had just finished talking about how the business was booming late last year, during which she had befriended people who worked on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Workers were returning from their shifts from a handful of nearby pumping stations to relax at the hotel, as it was just a short drive away. Cox recalls having dinner with the workers and lively talks night after night, many of them became close to their pet dog, a cute canine named Heidi.

Her husband, Wallace Cox Jr., was an industrial mechanic who had been planting bombs in Minnesota before he was fired on February 10. He was also scheduled to work on the Keystone XL pipeline, specifically on pumps in Montana next summer. .

The hotel’s picturesque scene collapsed almost instantly after President Joe Biden shut down the pipeline on January 20 by executive order. The cancellation was one of his first moves as president.

« All the workers who stayed here came to me and said, well that’s it, we’re done, we’re going home, » Laurie told The Epoch Times, describing the scene after the news. « While I was signing that executive order, they were getting laid off. »

Laurie Cox, owner of the Stroppel Hotel and Mineral Baths sits down for an interview in Midland, South Dakota, on February 10, 2020. (Screenshot / NTD)

« My heart sank, » he added. “I tried to keep everything because they are packing. They have to face their families, start their lives anew, get back on the jobless list and try to determine their next assignment.

By the time most of the workers left the hotel, Laurie had really started thinking about the full effects of the pipeline shutdown. He not only lost the workers staying at his hotel, but also those who would have stayed in the future.

She tried to hold back the tears as her hotel became more and more empty.

« It felt like the death of a family, » he said. “These workers really became part of the community that we have, not just here in Midland but at Philip, Murdo, Kadoka. We are far away and few here «.

« Even the dog Heidi would sit here and wait for them … she knew what time it was when they would return to the hotel, » he added. « She would accompany them to their rooms, or sit down to dinner with them. »

His hotel, The Stroppel Hotel and Mineral Baths, sits roughly in the middle of four Keystone job sites in the area. The executive order affected several other communities and towns within a 45-mile area.

Wallace, who is a member of a carpenters union, traveled from Minnesota back to Midland shortly after being fired to help his wife with the hotel business.

Laurie Cox, owner of the Stroppel Hotel and Mineral Baths with her dog Heidi in Midland, South Dakota, on February 10, 2020 (Screenshot / NTD).

He told The Epoch Times that he was fired « due to uncertainties of upcoming political policies. »

As soon as he heard that Biden had signed the order to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline, his first thought: « I knew it! » Then came a flood of phone calls from her friends at the union wondering if anyone knew of any job opportunities as they discussed what to do next.

« For my family, I needed to figure out how to change gears and what the future holds, » he said. « My work is focused on refineries, power plants, hydroelectric dams and paper mills, everything seems to be in the Biden pit. »

There are limited opportunities in small rural towns like Midland, Wallace said, as he described the pipeline project as « a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn additional income for all of our businesses to accumulate in the future. »

When asked if he had any messages for the Biden administration, he said he wanted to tell the president to « reconsider his course on the American oil and gas industry. »

The Keystone XL pipeline was a massive project expected to generate $ 3.4 billion in US GDP growth, including millions in state and local tax revenue, according to the US Chamber’s Global Energy Institute. The pipeline would have generated millions of dollars in economic opportunity for the people of South Dakota.

Laurie estimates that there were at least 100 workers at each pump station by counting all the different types of trades involved. Anyone who owned rental houses along the route, or who owned hotels, was « practically full » due to the influx of workers.

Miles of unused pipe, prepared for the proposed Keystone XL pipe, are found in a lot on October 14, 2014 outside Gascoyne, North Dakota. (Andrew Burton / .)
A framed drawing inside the Stroppel Hotel and Mineral Baths located in Midland, South Dakota, on February 10, 2020. (Screenshot / NTD)

A worker who had stayed at her hotel told Laurie that he was going to Sioux Falls to find work. The city is more than a three hour drive from Midland.

Most laid off workers will likely look up their unions and ask to be added to a list of unemployed.

« Imagine how long those jobless lists are now, » Laurie said.

Regardless of whether he was against or in favor of the pipeline, people have to recognize the void in these communities now, he said.

More than three weeks had passed since the workers left the area when Laurie spoke to The Epoch Times. She said she is looking forward to the future, fondly remembering what the hotel had been like just a month ago.

“For me it was the perfect energy that this hotel should have, where people felt like a home away from home, and that’s what I always wanted it to be,” he said. « It wasn’t just the hotel room they had to go back to after work, but rather a ‘Here we are together on this project and we can sit back and rest.’