Battle over man camps in Williston. Reaction of investors shows crony capitalism is alive and well, even in North Dakota.

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The city of Williston has voted down a compromise plan that would have allowed man camps to continue within the city and the one-mile reach beyond city limits.  Unfortunately, this issue illustrates one dark side of capitalism: the tendency towards cronyism, or insisting the government intervene to protect you from competition or demanding that the government give you special favors.

3/3 – Williston Herald reprinted at Dickinson Press – Big oil makes big push for crew camps compromise – An alliance of 31 energy companies are suggesting a compromise to city of Williston as an alternative to shutting down all crew camps.

Suggestion is to cut beds 25% in each of the next two years and double the per-bed ‘fee’ to $800.

A spokesman points out that having oil workers park their trucks and industrial equipment in residential housing areas changes the appearance of a neighborhood and can create tension.

Far better would be to have

  • permanent oil field workers living in single family homes and apartments,
  • travelers such as conventioneers, business people, tourists, and sports teams staying in hotels, and
  • transient oil workers who don’t know how long they will be in town living in man camps.

What a radical idea. Housing that corresponds to the nature of the occupants.

Pushing all oil field workers into homes and apartments is not a good match.

Spokesman also points out that lots of oil companies would rather have their workers in the controlled environment of a camp where the no-drugs, no-booze policy can be enforced. Helps maintain sobriety for workers dealing with deadly dangerous equipment.

3/8 – Amy Dalrypmle of Forum News Service at Bismarck Tribune – Measure to keep man camps open in Williston fails again – Proposed compromise to reduce number of beds in man camps by 25% a year was voted down 3-2 by the Williston City Commission this week. Lots of pressure from the owners and investors of hotels and apartments to take out their competition.

The scare quotes claim extremely low occupancy and dramatic drop in rates. The hotels claim 27% occupancy for January. Of course January is in the middle of winter and therefore is at the lowest occupancy point of the year. I suppose February might be lower.

Of note is that there’s 25 hotels in Williston now.

The mayor says he is open to compromise. Presumably the compromise involves some variation of all the man camps going away really soon. As long as a compromise involves getting rid of man camps, something can be worked out.

3/9 – Williston Herald reprinted at Dickinson Press – Lost in the debate over the fate of man camps are workers with very uncertain futures – Oil companies had their say at the commission meeting while most of the voices and the most forceful voices appear to have been the hotel and apartment investors. Missing from the discussion was the concerns of the actual, you know, oil field workers.

One lobbyist for apartment and hotel investors claims there is a 50% vacancy rate in apartments and hotels. Article says other hotel operators say the vacancy rate is 30%. I wonder if that is the January rate. You know, the middle of winter.

The local job services agency says there are still 779 open job listings. I think this is down from over a thousand last fall, but don’t have a citation.

I found a comment from the state Chamber of Commerce enlightening, in a sad way:

“One of our core principles is free enterprise … You can’t have it both ways. You can’t oppose rent controls or oppose putting caps on the market but when things are bad, throw people out of the market because there isn’t enough to go around. …”

The property investors opposed rent controls when prices were in the upper stratosphere. Now that prices are vaguely comparable to the Inland Empire of Southern California, which means they are probably higher than anywhere else in the upper midwest region, the hotel and apartment investors want government to destroy their competition.

Unfortunately, the tendency of capitalists to demand government give them special protection and favors exists even in a state where government is expected to govern with a light hand.

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