WILLISTON, N.D. - Williston crew camps will be required to close by Sept. 1 under an ordinance approved Tuesday, but operators could seek permission to reopen in the future if a demand for oil worker housing returns.
The Williston City Commission voted 5-0 Tuesday to phase out temporary workforce housing, giving companies until May 1, 2018, to remove facilities and until Aug. 1, 2018, to clean up the sites.
Previously, commissioners had voted 3-2 to require crew camps in and around Williston to close by July 1, but the businesses have been in limbo after a federal judge issued an order preventing Williston from enforcing the ordinance.
Commissioners considered a revised ordinance Tuesday with the Sept. 1 deadline, which was met with protests by several camp owners and oil industry representatives. The ordinance requires a second reading before it is final.
Among those raising objections was Gary Thompson of Lodging Solutions, which owns the land north of Williston where Target Logistics operates worker housing facilities. Thompson, of Alexandria, Minn., offered to sell the commissioners his property, which he said is now worthless.
"I don't think it's fair," Thompson said. "Why can't we let the marketplace decide this?"
Brent Eslinger, senior district manager for Halliburton, said 65 percent of the company's Williston workforce is now local, but the employer wants to be ready with housing if the demand for temporary workers returns. Halliburton owns the Muddy River Lodge in Williston, which Eslinger said the company may propose to use as conference space.
Commissioner Deanette Piesik, who previously opposed the ban on temporary housing, said many camps closed in anticipation of the July 1 deadline and found other housing for their workers.
Piesik said she supports the new deadline because there's no longer a housing shortage and the revision allows the facilities to remain at their current sites.
"If it did boom again, that housing would be there," Piesik said.
Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl said he thinks the oil market is poised for steep peaks and valleys, which could again create a housing shortage in Williston.
"If pricing conditions warrant, we're not going to see the rig count go from 30 to 40, we're going to see the rig count go over 100," Bekkedahl said.
Crew camp owners also can bring proposals to the city to repurpose their facilities to hotels or a different use, which some are already doing.
The debate is likely to continue in U.S. District Court in Bismarck, where Target Logistics, Lodging Solutions and Halliburton have an ongoing case challenging the city's efforts to eliminate workforce housing.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland issued a preliminary injunction that prevented Williston from enforcing the ordinance with the July 1 deadline. Hovland ruled that the crew camp operators are likely to prevail in their argument that the city needed a 4-1 supermajority vote to approve the ordinance.
Boston attorney Benjamin Tymann, who represents Target Logistics and Lodging Solutions, told commissioners he strongly believes they're in danger of violating that injunction by requiring the camps to close in three weeks.
The next hearing in the court case is a scheduling conference on Sept. 19.