Oil field development evicts tribal members from New Town trailer park

Verdell Smith, a resident of Prairie Winds Trailer Park in New Town, is working with leaders of Three Affiliated Tribes to find a solution for residents who are being evicted. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications Co.

NEW TOWN, N.D. – Residents of a 45-lot mobile home park in New Town, many among the poorest members of the Three Affiliated Tribes, are being evicted and will be replaced by oil workers.

Tribal leaders, who were offered a chance to buy the mobile home park, are working on a solution, but a severe housing shortage caused by the oil boom has the residents worried.

“There’s fear,” said resident Verdell Smith. “Where are we going to go? We’re here because there’s nowhere to go.”

The park is now owned by Future Housing LLC. John Reese, the agent for that organization, also is CEO and general manager of United Prairie Cooperative, formerly Cenex of New Town. United Prairie Cooperative plans to use the property to construct housing for its employees, Reese said.

Residents of Prairie Winds Trailer Park learned on Nov. 22 the privately owned park had been sold and changes could be coming.

On Dec. 26, residents found letters taped to their doors stating they’d be receiving eviction notices.

Dennis Fox, CEO for the Three Affiliated Tribes, said the residents are some of the poorest members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

“They’re not people with a lot of income,” Fox said. “They don’t have much choice in terms of where they live.”

Initially, the eviction deadline was set for May 1.

But because there are no available lots with sewer and water infrastructure, Fox and other leaders worked with Reese to extend the deadline to Aug. 31.

“He’s been very cooperative in that sense to give us extra time,” Fox said. “It’s just that we’re limited in areas for development because of the escalating cost of realty because of the oil impact.”

Wayne Stubstad owned the park for 31 years before deciding to retire. He said he first offered it to sell it to the tribe, but got no response.

“They didn’t show any real interest,” Stubstad said.

Fox said Stubstad asked for a “very high” price. He did not recall how much. The tribe does have oil revenue coming in, but there was not enough in the budget to purchase the property, Fox said.

Stubstad said he sold the property to Future Housing LLC for more than what he asked the tribe. He declined to say the price.

While residents were given more time to move, their rents are also going up.

Residents also were informed that monthly lot rent would become $200, which for some was an increase of $70 to $80. The rent increase was postponed until March 1 because Reese had not provided adequate notice.

Reese, who has worked for the New Town company for 35 years, said an out-of-state business likely would have evicted the residents in 30 days. The lot rent of $200 is low in the Oil Patch, where it often is $500 to $600, Reese said.

“We’ve done nothing but bend over backwards to try to accommodate them to give them extra time,” Reese said.

Prairie Winds residents say they feel like they’re being treated like second-class citizens. Shane Dye, who has lived in the park for nearly five years, said he would have preferred to have a meeting to talk about the changes rather than get a note taped to his door the day after Christmas.

“Just because we live in a trailer park doesn’t mean we’re trailer trash,” Dye said.

It’s unclear how many people live in the 45 trailers because many house two or three families due to the housing shortage.

Smith, a resident and spokesman for the group, estimates at least 90 adults and more than 90 children live in the park.

Edward Finley, who has lived in the park for seven years, has seven adults and five kids living in his trailer.

Smith said the evictions remind him of the tribal members being displaced in the 1950s by the construction of Garrison Dam and the creation of Lake Sakakawea, which put hundreds of homes under water. New Town was founded for the displaced residents and is the largest city on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Forty of the trailers are occupied by tribal members. Some own the trailers and others rent.

Tribal leaders have identified land east of New Town for possible development of a new mobile home park, Fox said.

“Hopefully we can get it all worked out by Aug. 31,” Fox said.

Meanwhile, residents have to figure out if their trailers can be moved. Many are dilapidated and tribal leaders hope they can be replaced with FEMA trailers.

“A lot of them are in tough shape,” Smith said.

Those with trailers that can be moved will have to figure out how to pay for it. Maggie Halvorson, who lives in a double-wide trailer with eight other people, said she’s received an estimate that it would cost $10,000 to move her trailer.

Stubstad said he has mixed feelings about selling the property.

“The oil field has changed stuff around here forever,” Stubstad said. “Ain’t never going to be the same. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s bad.”

$3 million for growing Williston school district will have a ‘big impact’

WILLISTON, N.D. – Williston Public School Superintendent Viola LaFontaine anticipates the district will grow by 800 to 1,200 students next fall, prompting the need for additional state aid.

A $3 million matching grant awarded Thursday by Gov. Jack Dalrymple and other members of the state Board of University and School Lands will go a long way toward accommodating the growing student population, LaFontaine said.

She believes there’s a need for 32 modular classrooms. Administrators will begin meeting with a construction manager Friday to start planning.

Without the state’s assistance, the district would not have been able to afford any modular classrooms, LaFontaine said.

“For sure this is going to make a big impact,” LaFontaine said.

The district has about 2,635 students now after gaining 300 this year and 150 the previous year, LaFontaine said. Most new students are elementary students, but the middle school also is “kind of bulging right now,” she said.

LaFontaine bases her enrollment estimates on the number of housing units and RV spaces that are expected to become available by next fall.

This is how she comes up with her figure:

-          1.5 children for every new house, based on the national average

-          1 child for every four new apartments

-          1 child for every five new RV spaces

The big question mark is whether the new housing units that become available will be affordable enough for families, LaFontaine said.

Conference connects investors with opportunities in Bakken

WILLISTON, N.D. – Jeff Zarling, president of a Williston communications firm, says he often fields calls from people asking about “the Bacon.”

He tells them he doesn’t have time to educate them on the phone about the Bakken oil fields and they should visit North Dakota to see it for themselves.

“Don’t try and do business eight states away over the telephone,” Zarling said. “It’s not going to work.”

Zarling, and his business, DAWA Solutions Group, is providing education up close by organizing the Bakken Investor Conference in Minot next week.

More than 200 potential investors are expected, more than twice as many as at the inaugural event last year, Zarling said.

“I think people are starting to realize that this is pretty significant,” Zarling said.

The event aims to connect people with investment opportunities in the Bakken region. It also will educate investors on some of the challenges of doing business in the Bakken.

“We believe the challenges are really opportunities,” Zarling said. “You name the challenge we have, that’s an opportunity for somebody to solve the problem and make a fair profit.”

A major focus of the conference is housing development, with sessions geared toward real estate investors and developers.

Some of the people registered have been doing business in the Bakken for a few years and some are new and looking for opportunities, Zarling said.

A Bakken 101 session will help educate new investors.

Other speakers include Terry Hildestad, president and CEO of MDU Resources Group, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy. Brad Owen, lieutenant governor of Washington, will speak on the effects of the Bakken beyond North Dakota.

The conference is Monday through Wednesday at the Sleep Inn in Minot. Registration costs $850 and will be accepted at the door.

To register in advance and view the complete schedule, visit bakkenconference.com.

Hawaiian brothers-in-law achieve dream by opening new restaurant in Williston

WILLISTON, N.D. – Hawaiian Mike Kim used to joke with his wife about moving to North Dakota to get some space from their families.

“That just seemed like the most remote place you could possibly go,” Kim said.

Little did he know that North Dakota would turn out to be his ideal location to open a restaurant.

Kim and his brother-in-law Leo Wong recently opened the Hawaii Fire Grill in Williston.

The Hawaii natives had dreamed about running their own restaurant and became inspired after Kim learned about the North Dakota oil boom watching NBC’s Brian Williams.

“I thought, ‘I can’t get a better opportunity than that,’ ” recalled Wong.

They took a scouting trip to North Dakota in December and visited Williston, Watford City and Tioga.

After talking to people and waiting in line at local restaurants, they realized that demand for more dining options was huge.

“The biggest thing that scared us, more than the business, was the cold,” Wong said.

Both were born and raised in Hawaii. Wong, 53, most recently lived in Sacramento, Calif. Hawaii is still home for Kim, 38. Each has a wife and two kids at home.

Their biggest hurdle was finding a kitchen in an area with a shortage of retail space.

After calling around, they learned that the former Elks Lodge in downtown Williston is being renovated and the kitchen isn’t being used.

Kim and Wong worked out an arrangement with Joe Lundeen, the owner of the building, to use the kitchen for a carryout and delivery business while the lodge is being renovated. Later, the Hawaii Fire Grill will move to another location in the lodge that will have room for dining.

Their restaurant has an unconventional set-up, but it’s developed a steady stream of customers in just a few weeks.

Customers call, text or email their orders. They pick up their food through a back alley kitchen entrance with no sign. Some customers have driven around the block several times before finding it.

The restaurant also offers delivery and catering for job sites and man camps in the Williston area.

Kim and Wong do everything themselves – working from 9 a.m. to sometimes 2 a.m. – with only one part-time employee who helps in the evenings.

Their menu features teriyaki rice bowls with the option of chicken, pork or beef. They also have specials, such as luau pork and beef stew. They say the secret is in their sauce.

“What we’re doing here is like what we do at home, we’re just mass producing it,” Kim said.

They’re living at the Elks Lodge while it’s being renovated. But in a few months they’ll need to find a place to stay.

This isn’t the first business venture the two have been on together. They once spent a few months traveling around Texas in a camper selling novelty toys at carnivals and fairs.

“It wasn’t very successful, but it was fun,” Kim said.

Wong owned a travel business in Sacramento for more than 20 years, taking people to Hawaii, Mexico and the Bahamas. He sold the business three years ago after seeing a decline in customers he attributes to the economy and the Internet.

Kim has worked a variety of jobs, including food service. Most recently, he had been running an online business that he said “was not tremendously successful.”

They plan to keep their new restaurant small but would like to add one or two more employees so they can return home to visit their families.

Wong said he’s been impressed with how many customers have thanked them for coming to North Dakota.

“It’s amazing how nice and welcoming people are,” Wong said. “In Hawaii, that’s how we are, too.”

Photo blog: Scenes from a boomtown

WILLISTON, N.D. – A lot of people are curious about what daily life is like in Williston during the oil boom.

Here’s a peek at what I see every day in Williston.

My apartment building is in a part of town that’s developing rapidly. Every day I see a new crane or new building project that wasn’t there before. It’s exciting to watch the progress.

 

This is one of the left turns I make every day. Sometimes it’s backed up like this, sometimes I coast right through. There doesn’t seem to be a rush hour – it can be busy at any time of day.

As a car-owner, I’m in the minority. I also have one of the few North Dakota license plates in the parking lot of my apartment building.

 

This was the line at Subway at 8 p.m. on a Sunday. The pop cooler and cookie case were wiped out.

Curious about another aspect of daily life? Let me know what you’d like to see and I’ll post it in a future blog entry.

Restaurant boom hitting Williston

WILLISTON, N.D. – The Williston Herald recently had a front-page headline about Wendy’s coming to town.

At first I chuckled to myself that a new fast-food joint would be above the fold.

But then I realized they were right to place it there.

The lack of restaurants here is a complaint that comes up almost as much as the housing shortage.

Any new restaurant is front-page news.

I happened to be at the city meeting when a representative from Love’s Travel Stops said that a new truck stop would include a Wendy’s. That was the first thing I told my husband when I got home.

We rarely even ate at Wendy’s in Fargo, but I guess it’s just nice to know we’re going to have another option.

In the five weeks that I’ve been in Williston, several restaurants have either opened or announced plans to open. Check back here this weekend and you can read the stories behind two of them – Hawaii Fire Grill and an upscale restaurant and hotel called The Williston.

Mayor Ward Koeser has told me that citizens wanted to get more restaurants and retail stores for years, but Williston wasn’t big enough to attract them.

Now the city is finally getting inquiries from big box retailers and other companies. The lack of an available workforce and housing for those workers is holding some of the development back, but Koeser thinks more businesses are going to start making commitments.

Who knows, soon the Williston restaurant scene may even warrant a visit from the viral food critic Marilyn Hagerty.

Trooper protects oil field roads

 

WILLISTON, N.D. – Trooper Neil Kent isn’t afraid to take on the heavyweights.

Kent, stationed with the Highway Patrol’s Williston district, spends the bulk of his time monitoring the busy truck traffic and enforcing weight restrictions.

His job is important to maintaining the state’s roads, which are designed to handle a certain amount of weight.

When trucks are overweight, “it causes roads to wear out sooner and have to be replaced faster,” Kent said.

Damage to roads caused by overweight trucks also creates safety hazards for other motorists.

Kent, along with troopers Brett Mlynar and Myles Sundby, recently received the Highway Patrol Award of Excellence for giving 412 overload violations in 2011 totaling nearly $1.3 million.

Overload violations issued by troopers statewide in 2011 totaled $1.9 million.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Darcy Aberle said the troopers in the Williston district are on pace to beat last year’s numbers.

“All of our truck guys are doing an excellent job,” Aberle said.

Traffic counts on segments of highways in western North Dakota show there were about 1,600 trucks per day in 2011, compared to about 850 per day in 2009-2010, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol now has 15 troopers that focus on truck enforcement, with 11 of them stationed in western North Dakota.

Kent, who joined the North Dakota Highway Patrol in July 2010, didn’t know much about trucks and weight restrictions before he became a trooper.

Previously, Kent was a park ranger for Perrot State Park in Wisconsin. But that was a part-time job and finding full-time employment in Wisconsin was difficult.

After moving to North Dakota and becoming a trooper, Kent quickly picked up on the typical routes truck drivers take in the oil field. And he knows what clues indicate that a truck is likely overweight.

Kent looks for trucks that slow down at the top of hills and trucks that emit dark exhaust. If a trailer is bouncing up and down, he knows it’s empty.

About 80 percent of the trucks Kent pulls over are overweight.

Drivers then have to either correct the weight or find an alternate route.

Most drivers understand when Kent has to pull them over and check their weight.

“There’s very few that are upset about it,” Kent said. “They usually understand that they’re trying to do their job and we’re trying to do our job. This is how we meet sometimes.”

The largest fine Kent has issued is a $13,000 fine for a truck that was hauling a piece of oil field equipment on a restricted road without a permit.

In addition to truck enforcement, Kent spends a lot of time responding to vehicle crashes. Most are caused by motorists who fail to yield, drive too quickly for conditions or have been drinking alcohol, he said.

“Some days we’re just so busy you feel like you’re being torn two, three different ways,” Kent said.

 

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com and (701) 580-6890.

NDSU research could play role in oil exploration

FARGO – North Dakota State University scientists are analyzing materials that could play a role in North Dakota oil and gas exploration.

Scientists from NDSU’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering are analyzing 198 clay samples to determine their composition and suitability for use as a component in hydraulic fracturing.

The clays show early promise for potential use as a key material known as ceramic proppant, used in the fracking process to help keep fractures open. The fracking process is used to extract oil and natural gas deep within the ground in places such as the Williston Basin.

The work is being done by NDSU’s Materials and Characterization and Analysis Laboratory as part of a research agreement with the North Dakota Geological Survey in Bismarck.

Results from the study could shed light on whether North Dakota could eventually supply some of the proppant materials needed for oil exploration.

The testing is expected to take about five months. The clay samples come from Adams, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Grant, Hettinger, Mercer, Morton, Slope, and Stark counties.

New rules will deter drilling, oil rep says

WILLISTON, N.D. – Oil regulations that take effect in April will discourage drilling in North Dakota, and at least one operator is already moving south, according to an industry representative.

The new rules will add $400,000 to the cost of each well, making it less cost-effective for companies to do oil exploration in areas where the Bakken formation is less prolific, said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

The new rules also increase the bond requirement for oil wells from $20,000 to $50,000, making North Dakota’s requirement 2.5 times more expensive than other states.

“Many of these changes are onerous and costly,” Ness said.

The Industrial Commission presented the regulations this week to the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee.

Alison Ritter, public information officer for the Oil and Gas Division, said these are the most sweeping rule changes to the state’s oil and gas industry in 30 years.

They are designed to keep up with technology and other changes in the industry and to protect the state’s resources, she said.

“We really feel like these rules are necessary to make sure the oil industry stays good stewards to the land,” Ritter said.

Dumping liquid drilling wastes into an open pit is banned under the new rules, except in cases where the oil well is less than 5,000 feet deep. Instead of going into pits, the liquid wastes will have to be disposed of at authorized sites or stored in tanks.

The so-called reserve pits came under scrutiny last year when heavy spring flooding swamped some 30 of them, despite warnings from regulators to shore them up. Regulators later levied $3 million in fines against 19 companies that failed to protect oilfield waste pits from spring flooding.

The new rules require that existing waste pits be emptied and reclaimed within a year.

In addition, companies also will be required to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. The rules also call for tougher requirements related to the construction of wells to ensure that the groundwater is protected, Ritter said.

“We want to have tough rules,” Ritter said. “We want to make sure that the integrity of that well is going to be structurally sound enough to last the 30 years that some of these wells are anticipated to last.”

The role of the legislative committee that reviewed the rules is to make sure the Industrial Commission is not overstepping its authority. None of the legislators asked to void or delay the rules.

“Nothing in those rules exceeded the authority of the oil and gas regulators,” said Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, the committee chairman.

Ness said adding to the cost of doing business means that companies will be less willing to do exploratory drilling in areas that are outside of the core Bakken formation.

Ness said he knows of one operator who plans to drill in South Dakota as a result of these new rules. He declined to name the company.

Ness cautions that if the price of oil drops, these new regulations could be extra burdensome for the industry.

“Today there’s a lot of activity going on,” Ness said. “But we just need to think back to the ’80s and ’90s and early 2000s when we were trying to encourage everything we could.”

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

New Williston resident leads effort to clean up town

WILLISTON, N.D. – With an oil boom that has made things messy in a lot of ways, Williston is in need of major spring cleaning, and it’s not just locals who are rallying for the cause.

Dan Manjack, a contractor from Florida who moved to Williston to build a man camp, is leading an effort to spruce up the city.

Manjack is recruiting oil companies and other businesses to contribute money and manpower to pick up the trash and construction debris that litters ditches and intersections.

“There are a lot of people like me who want to give back to the community that’s giving us an opportunity,” he said.

Manjack moved to Williston five months ago to construct a man camp on the west side of town. Shortly after he arrived, he bought the domain name keepwillistonclean.com and started making plans.

Then he happened to meet Mayor Ward Koeser at church and learned that city leaders also wanted to organize a cleanup effort.

“Williston has been an oil town for 60 years, but we always had a reputation for being a clean oil town,” Koeser said.

Not this year.

Construction debris from a record number of building projects is piling up around town. Some people who live out of their cars or RVs simply throw out bags of garbage onto the ground. Add to that all the truck traffic that brings mud into town.

Plus, Williston never got a good spring cleaning last year because it was such a late winter, Koeser said.

“It got way, way worse than I think we’ve ever had it,” Koeser said.

Now Manjack is teaming up with city leaders and others in the community to get the city looking good by May 12, the date of an annual band festival.

“Our goal is to get people in Williston – new, old, whoever – to pick up their trash,” Manjack said.

The group also is developing a long-term plan to keep the city clean. Manjack said he’s passionate about the cause because wants to make Williston his home.

“It’s the people, the opportunity and the growth expectation in this town that gets me to stay and really love this place,” Manjack said.