Ban on crew camps in Williston moving forward with possible compromise. Maybe.

Photo by James Ulvog.
Photo by James Ulvog.

The Williston city commissioners have moved forward with their plan to shut down man camps and throw housing business to the hotels and apartments in town.

11/24 – Amy Dalrymple at Oil Patch Dispatch – Compromise possible for Williston crew camps – On 11/24 the commissioners held their ‘second reading’ and voted 3-2 to eliminate all crew camps within the city and their one-mile extraterritorial reach. That means all man camps they can touch will have to be closed by June 30, 2016.

Oil companies say they need temporary housing for workers that cycle in to the area for short or unknown lengths of time.

The mayor indicates there might be some room for some sort of compromise.

One of the commissioners would prefer an approach that ramps down the number of beds instead of shuttering them all at once. This Commissioner points out the city loses revenue under the state formula that allocates some revenue based on employment. Chasing jobs out of the area would further cut city income as an unintended consequence.

Two of the large crew camp providers filed a protest. When that resulted in a tangled argument from the commissioners on how to handle the protest, it was withdrawn.

Rob Port has a suggestion for a compromise at Say Anything Blog: If We Have Too Much Oil Patch Housing Let’s Stop Subsidizing It.

Article says the housing developers are having a hard time staying at full occupancy so as

“… a short term solution, they’ve decided to kneecap the competition.”

Article points out the city commissioners agree with the developers’ plan to take out the man camps. We call that crony capitalism. That phenomenon isn’t limited to D.C.

The commissioners asserted in the meeting they have no financial interest in crew camps, apartments, or hotels. Might be nice for someone to get a roll call vote on that, preferably even under oath.

One approach would be to let the market decide how much housing is needed for people who want to stay so they can make a life in Williston and how much housing is needed for people who only want to work there on a short-term basis until their current job ends. Instead of that, the city commissioners have decided they’re smart enough to figure out the proper housing balance for the city.

The commissioners believe there is an oversupply of housing which needs to be reduced quickly. Mr. Port suggests an additional way to scale back housing is to cut the state Housing Incentive Fund which subsidizes developers by taking money from the taxpayers and giving it to the developers. If there has been overdevelopment, the state has encouraged it and subsidized it (at taxpayer expense).

I had not heard of the Housing Incentive Fund before, but since there is more housing than will ever be needed in the city ever again, perhaps it would be a good idea to drop a taxpayer-funded subsidy for developers.

The foolishness built into the commissioners’ decision is the astounding assumption that they know for sure there will be no dramatic increase in drilling activity in North Dakota’s future. They know for a fact that there will never, ever be an unexpected surge in production and therefore the city will have no need for any man camps again.

11/26 – Amy Dalrymple at Bismarck Tribune – With vote against crew camps, builder left in limbo – One developer from West Fargo built three different facilities for temporary housing. When he built them for $2M, the buildings were outside the city limits. With the city grabbing land by annexation the facilities are now under control of city regulations and will have to be closed by next June.

One facility houses workers for a company that rotates all of its workers in and out of the area. That facility is on permanent pad and will be very difficult to move, so the developer expects it will be bulldozed and put into the city landfill.

Sobering reminder: what the government gives, the government can take away by unilateral decision at a random date in the future.

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