New Rules in McKenzie County Help Save Lives
With our fast-growing oil industry here in North Dakota and not enough housing for everyone, oil industry workers set up trailers and RVs in the middle of the oil fields.
In one county, McKenzie County, “man camps” popped up everywhere. Due to the county’s lack of zoning rules for housing and many unnamed roads, people had no addresses; officials and emergency crews had no idea how many people were living in the county.
"Before, we just had 'hillbilly addressing,'" said Jerry Samuelson, the county's emergency manager. '"Go down to a farmer's mailbox and turn right.' That was when everybody knew everybody."
Although local residents were not in favor of any new regulations, due to the influx of new residents, officials pushed through ordinances to keep track of everyone. These new rules say that temporary housing complexes for oilfield workers and RV parks must obtain permits and addresses, which allows 911 dispatchers to pinpoint where people are living. Officials helped to get people the proper paperwork to obtain permits.
Although locals pushed back against these rules, many people say they were a big help in helping emergency workers respond after the late-May tornado that hit one of these camps, destroying at least 15 trailer homes and critically injuring 9 people. No one was killed, and, thanks to these new rules, emergency workers knew where people were staying.
McKenzie County's population last year was about 9,300 people, nearly double from 10 years earlier and the highest since 1930. McKenzie County alone makes up a third of our state’s oil output.
"McKenzie County, with no planning and zoning, was kind of a free-for-all," said Kenan Bullinger, the director of the state Health Department division that regulates temporary housing. "I think they do have a handle on it now."
The Health Department says that more than a quarter of the 400+ licensed RV parks and campgrounds in North Dakota are in the 3 biggest oil counties--McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams ---and most are new in the past few years.
Officials say they are not trying to push unnecessary rules on people, but it’s a safety issue. "It's very valuable to be able to dispatch deputies, or an ambulance to the right place," one county official said. "If someone calls and says so-and-so is having a heart attack at a man camp, we should be able to find them."
Source: The Associated Press