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Man camp operator isn’t giving up on ban

WILLISTON -- Target Logistics' feet on the ground in Williston Travis Kelly walked away from Tuesday night's Williston City Commission meeting somewhat encouraged, in spite of the fact the vote didn't necessarily go the way he was hoping. "A 3 to...

WILLISTON  - Target Logistics’ feet on the ground in Williston Travis Kelly walked away from Tuesday night’s Williston City Commission meeting somewhat encouraged, in spite of the fact the vote didn’t necessarily go the way he was hoping.

“A 3 to 2 vote wasn’t 100 percent in our favor, but it kind of demonstrates that there is some thought going in behind this,” Kelley said. “And I think the commissioners are going to work hard to come up with a solution that is the right one for Williston.”

The final days for man camps in Williston seem to be near, as the city cleared yet another step in the process toward a July 2016 sunset. A first reading for an ordinance doing away with the camps passed by a 3 to 2 vote, with City Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl adding his ‘no’ to City Commissioner Deanette Piesik’s, narrowing the margin from the 4-1 it had been during the last vote.

The second, final reading is yet to come, and so there is time, Kelley said, to keep working on the issue with commissioners.

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“We are still hopeful and optimistic,” he said. “We are still working with the city, hoping to come to an amicable solution on this. There is an appetite from some of the commissioners to understand the issue and try to come up with maybe a better solution, so right now, at this point and time, we are anxious to continue to help be part of the solution.”

As part of that effort, Target Logistics has offered a proposed ordinance to commissioners for their review, one that Kelley said would “raise the bar” for man camps. He would not provide any specifics of what was in the proposed ordinance, saying that must come from the city. A copy of the document was not immediately available from the city by press time.

“We kept a lot of the same verbiage of the current ordinance, but what we did change was instead of an outright ban, we suggest raising the bar, increasing the standards,” he said in an interview Wednesday morning. “We believe that is a great approach of dealing with these types of facilities. It gives you better standards for the camps and eliminates some of the riff-raff that may be looked down upon and is obviously a driving factor in wanting to get rid of the facilities.”

Kelley said when the city required crew camp annexed into city limits to install sprinkler systems, some did and some did not.

“It’s definitely an approach that works toward reduction, and works to a better quality of camp operation,” he said.

Unintended consequences

Past history has already shown the city what happens a ban is arbitrarily put in place before the market is ready, Kelley suggested.

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People need affordable units. The current apartment and hotel rates, while much lower than what they were, may not yet feel all that affordable to workers whose hours, per diems and other forms of assistance have been cut.

“Just look back at history - 2011 and ’12, when those moratoriums were put in place,” Kelley said.

Several RV park applications followed on the heels of them, Kelley recalled. They were permitted through the state in allowable zones, rather than temporary conditional use permits, as people sought an affordable housing option to meet their needs.

“Now you have an RV park that’s a permanent fixture in the community,” Kelley said. “I know none of them thought that was coming at the time.”

Kelley recalls many discussions thereafter questioning the wisdom of the moratoriums and asking if it was the right approach.

“If it didn’t work well in the past, then maybe a different approach would be warranted here as well,” he said.

Investment not small

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Many apartment owners touted the size of their investments in the community, but investments by crew camps haven’t necessarily been insubstantial either. Those are costs, Kelley said, that also take time to recoup.

“They failed to recognize the infrastructure we put in is sizable,” Kelley said. “We put in our own wastewater treatment system in Tioga that we haul all of our wastes to. We do not rely on the city for that.”

Target Logistics’ Bear Paw facility alone is a $20 million investment, Kelley said, and is just one of three facilities in that particular area. The Tioga wastewater treatment plant was $3 million.

“I understand the permanent investment is a high dollar amount, but that doesn’t mean our solution is cheap, either,” he said.

Permanent structures, on the other hand, generally take advantage of programs that allow infrastructure to be paid off over time with tax money, Kelley pointed out. Target didn’t ask for any such help.

Kelley said he hoped the city would listen to spokesmen from the oil industry, who said this is a solution they need to run an efficient operation and that a ban now may have negative effects on an industry that is now operating in tight margins.

Crew camps also offer additional protections the community may want. Most of the professionally run crew camps do not allow drinking, drugs or weapons on site. Workers can lose their jobs if evicted from a crew camp for violating any of these rules. There is no such restriction on apartments or hotel rooms.

“I would encourage the folks in Williston to voice their concerns if they have any over the decision,” Kelley said. “It’s a decision that’s ultimately going to affect them. It’s not just a city and camp operators and oil industry type of issue. It’s something that could have a fairly substantial impact on the community as a whole.”

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