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Williams County wonders what to do with RVs

Photo by Larry Griffin / Williston Herald Greg Sederberg, an RV Technician, repairs an awning atop an RV at the Williston RV Resort in Williston in this undated photo. Illegal, unlicensed recreational vehicle parks are a constant problem for Williams County officials as the oil boom continues to attract those in search of work.

By Larry Griffin

Williston Herald

WILLISTON — Illegal, unlicensed recreational vehicle parks are a constant problem for Williams County officials as the oil boom continues to attract those in search of work.

At a county commission meeting this month, one of the Williams County Planning and Zoning board issues tackled was that of an unlicensed RV park on 60th Street run by Top Notch Services.

After some deliberation, commissioners ruled that Top Notch owners Johnny and Carmen Iovino must pay two months’ worth of fines and everyone in the park has to be out by December.

The dilemma the case posed to the county commissioners was that the RV residents were not really at fault — they had just settled there. In the opinion of the commissioners, the Iovinos are at fault for letting the people in the RVs stay there.

“These people were getting taken advantage of,” said Planning Specialist Taylor Corbett. “The property owners were just trying to make a quick buck.”

According to Planning and Zoning, the RV park had been there two years before anyone in the county or nearby Tyrone township noticed it was not licensed.

A compliance officer investigating a problem at a nearby former man camp owned by Jay Stetson noticed the RV park at the lot in question and looked into it, only to find that it was an unauthorized park.

“Nobody likes to be the bad guy, but somebody has to,” commissioner David Montgomery said, adding that the commission “is tired of being stepped on and abused” by people who try to find ways around applying for permits and doing things the legal way.

Johnny Iovino said he had gone to a county commission meeting and obtained the necessary permit to house employees of Top Notch Services. He stated that he understood the permit to be good until July 1, 2014, at which point there would be another hearing to determine the fate of the RV park for Top Notch employees.

“It was really just for my employees,” Iovino said of the land upon which the RVs sat. “It was not a trailer park. At the first meeting, (the county commissioners) gave me a permit. Then they had another meeting and took the permit away. I wish I could have been at that second meeting to defend myself.”

Iovino stated that he has “found a new place to go” for his employees who live in RVs, but that it would be a “big expense.”

“We had been using 20 acres of our own property before,” Iovino said.

While kicking people out of a space they have come to settle in seems cruel — especially when they themselves were not knowingly doing anything wrong — Commissioner Martin Hanson said there were “many legitimate RV parks” they could stay at.

“The problem is, the county has approved a large number of RV parks, but they haven’t been put in,” Hanson said. “They put in one RV park north of town and stopped building when they had space for 400, even though they had been planning for 700 to live there. There was no demand for rent at the time.”

However, Martin now believes that the park has been completed.

Many of the approved park permits which are not built to capacity were doled out before current county Planning Director Ray Pacheco took his seat in office. The current County Planning & Zoning board is picking up the pieces every day.

The problem with unlicensed RV parks is there is no way to mandate a quality control in terms of health and living conditions.

“If you let everyone put in 30 campers, what do you have for health standards?” Hanson asked before answering his own question: “Nothing.”

The official policy for those who wish to start an RV park is to go through the required avenues to obtain a license. Would-be RV park owners must apply for a Conditional Use Permit, which the Planning & Zoning commission must approve. This way, the park will be outfitted with the required elements — proper sewage systems, electric systems and a “recreational area,” which can entail a dog-walking park or even a community center.

But unfortunately, with the amount of transients coming into Williams County every day and the ever-expanding terrain the county encompasses, many find it easier to “cut corners” and circumvent the process by not getting approved — instead simply taking money from RV travelers and putting it in their own pockets.

“We want state approved parks,” Corbett said. “State approved sewage, state approved everything. RV parks are a need.”

“There is no easy solution,” Hanson said. “There are too many that try to circumvent the process. You can’t catch everybody. We are getting more all the time. We had someone with five campers in their backyard. The neighbors complained, and so he came into the meeting. He said he ‘was not aware you couldn’t do that.’ We asked if he could do it where he came from, and he said no. We asked why he thought he could do it here. And of course he didn’t have any answer for that. There is no answer for that.”

Hanson said that the county gets so many people calling in about unlicensed RV parks that “they don’t need to look for others.”

“There’s no wonder people are doing it,” Hanson said, calling the money yielded from such illegal ventures “phenomenal.” “If you have 34 campers, and you charge $500 a month for each of them, that’s $17,000 a month.”

Corbett called the number of unlicensed parks discovered by Planning & Zoning daily “constant.” He said it was a “day-to-day hassle” because when one group of RVs is evicted from one location, they often pop up at a similar, also unlicensed location, shortly thereafter.

In need of a place to live, they turn to with anyone space for their RVs, often unaware of the kinds of scams that prey on their kind. Many times, those with available space also have open hands for cash.

“They get taken advantage of,” Corbett said. “Then they get kicked out. And the property owners play dumb.”