Residents pack up from Williston camp forced to close by annexation
WILLISTON -- Residents of about 30 RVs are abruptly moving out this week after the owner told them he's closing the camp because it was recently annexed into city limits.
Owner Kenny Willard said he told residents they need to start moving out of the camp that's adjacent to his home in northwest Williston. His property is now within the city limits of the oil boom town, where living in an RV is illegal and subject to a $500 per day fine.
Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said city leaders have not taken any action to force the campers to move or to begin enforcing other ordinances in the recently annexed area.
"We're going to give people time to respond if they need to make changes," Koeser said. "Until we get a chance to review a number of issues, we probably won't be doing anything."
But Willard said he feared he would be subject to fines if he didn't remove the campers from his property.
"I'm not going to put myself into that predicament," Willard said. "I can't put myself into the jeopardy of losing everything that I worked for all my life because I tried to help someone."
Willard said he gave residents varying levels of notice to move out, ranging from 24 hours to 30 days, depending on when they had paid rent.
Many residents said Willard didn't warn them about how the annexation would affect the camp, but Willard said, "Everyone has been talking about it for six months."
Resident Bryan McCoy who moved from Grand Forks to Williston for "money, just like everybody else," said he was aware of the annexation, but Willard told him the camp would stay open until spring or summer. McCoy said Willard also indicated he was going to open another camp and that McCoy was going to be one of the first ones to live there because he always paid rent.
McCoy had several days before he had to move out, but he has already quit his job working for an oil field service company and given away his camper. He left Williston on a train Monday.
"It's a joke," McCoy said.
Residents paid $700 a month plus utilities to rent a space that did not include water or sewer hookups. The park had two portable toilets and residents could shower, wash dishes and do laundry in Willard's home during designated hours. A series of extension cords powered the park and McCoy said the power often went out.
City officials became concerned about sanitation and safety within RV camps that popped up throughout Williston as it grew rapidly with people looking for oil-boom related jobs. Those concerns prompted the city to make it illegal to live in campers within city limits. The ordinance took effect Sept. 1.
Single mother Jess Dougherty said she received one day's notice to move out with her son, Tyler, a high school sophomore.
"We didn't get any warning," Dougherty said.
Dougherty, of Idaho, works as a janitor and for a cleaning service but can't make ends meet in Williston, even with two jobs.
"We'd be living like kings anywhere else," she said.
Dougherty said she wasn't sure where she and her son would move.
"We're going to try and fight it but it's tempting to go back home or anywhere else," Dougherty said.
Resident Ryan Greenwood, who was helping his neighbors move out, said he has until today to leave the camp. The Montana man said he had to abruptly move once before when he was living in a camper in the county.
"It's a fact of life in Williston," Greenwood said.