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Compromise possible for Williston crew camps

WILLISTON, N.D. - Williston city commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of an ordinance that eliminates crew camps next year, but signaled they want to work on a compromise to keep some workforce housing open. The Williston City Commission appr...

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Trailers from a crew camp that voluntarily closed north of Williston remain on site on Tuesday. (Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service)

WILLISTON, N.D. – Williston city commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of an ordinance that eliminates crew camps next year, but signaled they want to work on a compromise to keep some workforce housing open.

The Williston City Commission approved the second reading of an ordinance that allows camps in city limits and the one-mile extraterritorial area to continue operating through June 30.

If the commission did not approve the ordinance Tuesday, the temporary housing permits for crew camps would have expired Dec. 31.

Commissioner Deanette Piesik was one of two commissioners who opposed the ordinance, which requires all camps to be removed by Sept. 1.

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“I think the timeline in this ordinance has not been set fairly,” Piesik said. “I am concerned about the industry and losing any of our industry.”

Supporters of eliminating crew camps say it’s time for temporary housing to be phased out now that permanent housing has caught up with the population growth. Developers of apartment complexes warned at the city’s Nov. 10 meeting about consequences to long-term investments if crew camps continue to operate.

But oil company representatives say they continue to need temporary housing for rotational workers.

Piesik proposed an amendment that would have eliminated all but about 1,000 of the 3,600 workforce housing beds in the city. Piesik’s proposal, which also raised fees for the camps, had a final sunset date of 2019 for those camps that continued to operate.

While several commissioners said they were willing to consider a compromise, Piesik’s motion failed 1-4 because commissioners thought such a substantial change should go through the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Mayor Howard Klug said commissioners could approve the ordinance with the June 30 sunset date, but immediately start working on a compromise and have it back before the commission in January.

Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl said he favors an approach that ramps down on the number of crew camp beds rather than eliminate them all at once.

Bekkedahl, also a state legislator, said the city loses state tax dollars through the oil and gas formula when it loses employees in the industry. He pointed out that Williams County decreased its workforce housing beds by 2,400 beds in June.

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“I think there’s a lot of factors that are involved in this decision versus just simply closing every crew camp facility,” Bekkedahl said.

At the start of Tuesday night’s discussion, Klug said the commission had been asked whether anyone had a personal interest in the temporary housing issue.

Klug polled the commissioners and all said they did not own crew camps, hotels or apartment buildings, including Klug who said he sold his interest in the El Rancho Hotel last December.

Commissioners also had a lengthy discussion with their lawyer about a protest submitted by Dickinson attorney Randall Sickler on behalf of Target Logistics and Lodging Solutions. Under the city’s code, a protest to a zoning ordinance made by 20 percent of affected owners requires a supermajority to approve it.

But after discussion about how the legality of the protest needed to be analyzed, Sickler withdrew the protest.

“We have a fear that this is turning this upside down,” Sickler said.

Operators of temporary housing facilities who attended the meeting said they’re encouraged that city commissioners plan to continue working on a solution.

“It’s nice to hear they at least have a tone of compromise,” said James Morken of West Fargo, who constructed three housing facilities that would be affected by the ordinance.

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Piesik cautioned about the impact to the industry if commissioners delay too long in adopting a compromise.

“If we don’t have a firmer timeline, what is the incentive for them to stay?” Piesik said. “They might as well start looking and shopping now.”

Related Topics: HOUSING
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