VIDEO: Poverty in western North Dakota’s oil country

BISMARCK–A few weeks ago, Jamestown Sun photographer John Steiner and I headed to Watford City to learn more about poverty in the Oil Patch.

There have been a lot of stories written about all of the wealth in western North Dakota and–after hearing the Great Plains Food Bank’s mobile food pantry makes the 750-mile round trip out there every three months–I was intrigued to look at the other side of the story: those who aren’t reaping the benefits of the boom.

As we pulled into the parking lot where the food was handed out, it struck me how many cars were already lined up and the mobile food pantry wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another half an hour.

You can view the video below and read the full story here.

State releases results of oil cities’ housing studies

UPDATED (You can find the Williston report today (Dec. 28) on the Jamestown Sun’s website)

BISMARCK—State officials hope a recently-completed study of housing needs in western North Dakota’s oil country will help cities, developers and policymakers know how to move forward.

The state Department of Commerce has released the results of studies conducted in New Town, Parshall, Stanley, Tioga, Watford City and Williston. The goal was to project the cities’ populations over a 20-year period, Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle said.

“One of the things that we found is a lot of the private sector was desiring some solid information like this upon which they could assess the opportunities in the region for investment purposes,” Goettle said. “We hope that it results in an increased look at that region for investments in real estate or more dwelling units for people to live in.”

The state’s latest oil boom has strained housing markets, resulting in workers living in vehicles, motels and trailers. The cost of rent, homes and motels has soared with the demand for shelter.

More than 23,000 people have been attracted to northwestern North Dakota since 2000, according to the new reports prepared by Ondracek, Witwer, & Bertsch of Minot, N.D.

The smaller cities studied are each projected to grow by 570 to 830 people between 2010 and 2025. Williston is projected to grow from 16,223 to 23,588 in the same time period. All of the cities are forecasted to dip in population by 2030 but will still remain well above current populations.

However, Williston officials question the study results, which were collected from August to December. The Associated Press reported that Williston Workforce Development Coordinator Shawn Wenko says city officials believe the estimates are too conservative and could hinder housing development. He says oil industry officials have higher population projections.

Goettle said there are limitations to the study in that the population projections are only based on primary and secondary oil drilling and production jobs in North Dakota. They do not take into account potential gains from other sectors and, therefore, are conservative estimates, he said.

Still, the studies allow communities to look at infrastructure needs for the future and serve as a resource for state policymakers, Goettle said.

Common themes throughout the reports are housing affordability and the need for subsidized housing for lower-income residents. “Those who do not qualify for subsidized housing and do not earn incomes approaching the city’s median are under extreme pressure,” the report said.

All of the cities experienced big gains in median household income from 2000 to 2010. In 2000, the median ranged from $23,993 to $29,740. Now, the median ranges from $44,900 to $55,000.

The report suggests housing solutions may include attached single-story suites initially intended for extended-stay use. As need dictates, two of these suites could be joined as an apartment. Later, the apartments could be sold as condos.

The report says cities need to encourage development of temporary housing that could be withdrawn or used for other purposes if employment drops.

The McKenzie County Job Development Authority in Watford City has already shared its study results with several developers, Executive Director Gene Veeder said.

“It kind of verified what we thought was going on,” he said. “You see so many temporary people, but you don’t know what the industry is going to hold long term.”

The study is one piece of several that will be used for local planning, Veeder said.

Stanley City Coordinator Ward Heidbreder said his initial thought is that the study wasn’t given enough time and doesn’t take into account environmental, regulatory and legislative issues.

All of the report recommendations for Stanley are already being addressed, he said.

“It points out a lot of things we’ve already known about our area,” he said.

North Dakota Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Mike Anderson said state agencies, legislators and the governor’s office need to work with oil communities to come up with a plan to address the housing challenges.

“We’ll be looking at ways, in terms of working with the Legislature, that we can provide some funding and some resources of some form that can address the affordable housing issues that are going on in the area,” he said.

You can find each of the city’s reports here: New Town Report, Parshall Report, Stanley Report, Tioga Report, Watford City Report. My blog tells me the Williston report is too big to post here. You can find the Williston report today (Dec. 28) on the Jamestown Sun’s website.

Project Safe Send update

A record amount of unusable pesticides – 215,594 pounds – were collected and shipped out of North Dakota through Project Safe Send in 2010, according to a news release from the state Ag Department.

“More than 400 people brought in more than 100 tons of unusable pesticides to the 12 Project Safe collections sites earlier this month,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement. “Once again, this response indicates a continuing need for this program.”

The previous record of 215,521 pounds was set in 2008, the year that also had the greatest program participation, 535 people.

“More than 7,000 people have used Project Safe Send since 1992 to get rid of their unusable pesticides, more than two and a half million pounds,” Goehring said. “The program has also enjoyed strong, bipartisan support in the Legislature.”

Project Safe Send collections were conducted during July in Adams, Ashley, Cando, Carrington, Crosby, Larimore, Minot, New England, Underwood, Valley City, Wahpeton and Watford City.

The Larimore collection gathered the most chemicals – 61,887 pounds – and was second in participation with 53, while Valley City had the most participants – 79 – and was second in total pounds collected with 45,878. (A listing of collection sites and totals follows this release).

Long-banned products, such as DDT, arsenic and mercury compounds, were among the chemicals brought in this year. One of the more unusual items was an old cream can filled with arsenic-based grasshopper killer.

Veolia Environmental Services of Blaine, Minn, collected, repackaged and transported the waste chemicals to out-of-state incinerators.

For the first time, empty pesticide containers were collected for recycling at five Project Safe Send sites. Container Services Network picked up 13,060 pounds of plastic containers at Ashley, Carrington, Minot, Underwood and Valley City. The recycling program is funded by the non-profit Ag Container Recycling Council.

Project Safe Send is funded by fees paid by pesticide manufacturers to register their products in North Dakota.

“Project Safe Send remains an easy and affordable means for farmers, dealers and homeowners to get rid of these dangerous chemicals,” Goehring said. “As more pesticides become obsolete and are no longer usable for current applications, the need for Project Safe Send remains.”

No. of participants
Lbs. collected
Container lbs. collected

New England

Watford City






Valley City