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Williston leaders want an end to man camps in city

WILLISTON, N.D. - Williston Mayor Howard Klug says he's disappointed that Tuesday night's city commission meeting ended without a clear end to crew camps in the city's jurisdiction.

Interior of man camp
The Target Logistics housing facility near Williston, N.D. Carrie Snyder / The Forum
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WILLISTON, N.D. – Williston Mayor Howard Klug says he's disappointed that Tuesday night's city commission meeting ended without a clear end to crew camps in the city's jurisdiction.

Related: North Dakota oil patch man camps dwindling to ghost camps

Klug, who says it's time to force the workers into homes and apartments in Williston, had hoped the commission would agree to end temporary housing permits by the end of the year.

Instead, the city will put together a working group to study the process of which housing should be shut down and how.

The commission also agreed to wait until July 1 to close the camps, with removal of the facilities by next September.

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The result of Tuesday's meeting is "now both sides are mad," said Klug, referring to hotel and apartment owners on one side and temporary camp operators on the other.

There are about 3,600 beds licensed under city permits, about one-third belonging to Target Logistics, the primary crew camp provider in North Dakota's oil patch, with facilities from Stanley in the northeast to Dickinson in the southwest.

Travis Kelley, regional vice president of Target Logistics, said his company is affected by the drilling downturn, like all businesses, but a newer press by companies in the "midstream" part of oil production, building pipelines and facilities to handle the oil and gas, is keeping the camps running profitably.

He said the market, not the commission, should decide whether his style of company is still needed.

"We came without being asked, and we'll leave with the same," Kelley said.

Target Logistics works with companies to provide housing, meals, security and no-tolerance rules.

"We are a vital asset to the community and to our customers around Williston," Kelley said.

Klug said he didn't have enough support on the commission to bring the permits to an abrupt stop at the end of this year.

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He said he wanted a "go," and instead he got "a think-about-it decision that's still on everybody's plate."

The motion, approved on a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, made by Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk, came after an hour or more of public discussion among commissioners about all the issues surrounding worker housing before a standing-room-only crowd in the city chambers.

Klug said an ad hoc committee had been studying the issue and came up with the plan for the man camps.

That committee had closed-door meetings with four different groups-all of which have a multi-million dollar stake in issue-that included hotel operators, apartment and housing developers, the oil industry and the crew camp operators.

Camp operators that don't agree to the July 1 closing would be forced to close earlier. They would have their operating permits expire Dec. 31 with structures required to be removed by next May.

City commissioner Brad Bekkedahl, who eventually voted for the measure, expressed disappointment that hotels and apartment units have not lowered rates more in response to vacancies, citing a report by THK Associates on the housing market.

Cymbaluk added that he'd called around to about 15 different hotels and said the rates he was quoted as just some guy off the street were still pretty eye-popping. The highest he was quoted was more than $200 per night, plus taxes. And some of the rates for weeknights were higher yet, he said.

Klug pointed out at the meeting if crew camp beds are still needed beyond Dec. 31, that there would still be some in Williams County outside the city's jurisdiction.

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Klug said he'd asked three county commissioners if they'd allow more crew camp beds if it seemed a real need was there and was told they would give it serious consideration.

Commissioner Deanette Piesek suggested the July 1 timeframe is still awfully short for crew camp owners.

"They still serve a purpose for our community," she said. "Based on the predominant oil industry that brings in two-week workers and two-week-off workers, we may want that to change, but it won't right now. North Dakota is facing workforce shortages, and all we're doing is making it harder for people to come work here. It's going to make it harder for all the industries."

The mayor called for a roll call with four in support and Piesek voting against it..

Cymbaluk suggested the commission hammer out the final details, including permit fees for the extension, as soon as possible.

Renee Jean of the Williston Herald contributed to this report

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