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Lawmakers seek crew camp building code solutions

BISMARCK -- Crew camps popped up in western North Dakota as a solution to the oil-fueled housing shortage, but the camps have created their own set of problems that the state still is trying to assess and address.

A study done by a state government advisory group found local county and city governments have been struggling to create new ordinances to address the need for planning, zoning and building code enforcement as a result of the increased population.

"There's a real need at the local level with building code enforcement; some counties do not have local building inspectors," said Kenan Bullinger, director of food and lodging as part of the Health Resources Section of the North Dakota Department of Health "Building code is a tough issue in North Dakota, it does exist under the Department of Commerce, but not everybody enforces all the regulations."

House Concurrent Resolution 3001 was unanimously passed out of the House Political Subdivision Committee on Thursday and will be sent to the House chamber, and then Senate, for approval to direct a Legislative Management committee to study the issues during the 2014 interim session.

The study would look at infrastructure demands, health and safety requirements, regulation, and examine whether state agencies have resources and expertise to assist political subdivisions in ensuring that the health and safety of the public are protected.

"Many businesses and individuals have established crew camp facilities that are being built in areas that lack infrastructure to handle increased population," said Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, who chaired the commission this past year.

A 12-member commission compiled a listing of city and county ordinances from the Oil Patch to see what ordinances they did or did not have, and also create one location for others to turn to for ideas.

Rep. Pat Hatlestad, R-Williston, vice chair of the House Committee, said the list and study, if the resolution passes, will be able to create a template for smaller communities to adapt to an increase in population and housing demand. Some communities may need help setting the ground rules from crew camps, often called man camps, that can provide housing for hundreds of workers.

"I don't see it as a quiet issue, drilling will continue and we will see it move north and west," he said. "The smaller communities will be able to learn from others when that happens."

Rep. David Drovdal, R-Arnegard, said his community is in the middle of the boom now and is struggling with zoning and infrastructure needs.

"Studies take time and we're in the peak of it right now," he said. "By the time the study is done we've already addressed the issues."

But some of the issues weren't as prevalent for some of the oil-impacted communities with larger populations.

Hatlestad said Williston was on top of the issues since it had staff members that could devote time to studying the needs and creating new ordinances.

He also attributed the city's quick adjustments to Target Logistics, the largest company in the Oil Patch. It was one of the first companies to provide temporary housing around Williston and brought in a wealth of experience to work with the city and help them adapt to the changes, he said.

Committee Chair Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Dickinson, said she watched Dickinson handle it's zoning and infrastructure needs well but, "a lot came fast, and a lot happened."

"In communities that don't have particular ordinances to curb some of these problems, things continue to pop up," she said.