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Published November 16 2013

Forum editorial: Oil country must face its reality

Two reports last week from North Dakota’s booming Oil Patch underscored the social and economic disruptions that are endemic to unprecedented economic prosperity. In one story, longtime residents of a mobile home park in Williston were upset about their rent doubling after the park was sold to a Fargo property management company. In the other story, federal officials said they would designate Williams County a high-density drug traffic area, a classification never before seen in far northwest North Dakota.

The trailer park rent spike report follows a litany of similar stories about sky-high rents, housing shortages and what has been described as gouging by landlords and property managers. In the latest case, the situation took on the flavor of the old east-west divide, with at least one trailer park resident characterizing the new owners as “those damn carpetbaggers from Fargo.”

Nothing illegal is going on. North Dakota law has no effective protections for renters who feel they’ve been mistreated by landlords. Of course, legal and ethical are not the same.

In the crime story, the federal designation of Williams County as a high-intensity drug zone will open up more resources for the drug fight. That’s as good as the news can get in a bad-news scenario.

Excuse-makers point out that several counties have been designated drug zones for a long time, including Cass, Burleigh, Grand Forks, Ward and Richland. True enough. But drug trafficking in those places is not new and has been successfully attenuated by intensive joint law enforcement efforts. It is new in the west. It is new in Williams County and Williston. It is a direct result of big money generated by energy development. Crime follows the money.

Soft-pedaling startling increases in specific major crimes in oil country might be a feel-good strategy, but it’s dishonest. The same is true of shrugging off the damage done to settled residents of a trailer park or apartment building who without warning get notices their rents will rise to levels they cannot afford. It’s the market, say property managers. Yes, it is. But a market without humanity is merely a mechanism. It has no soul, no conscience. Individuals working in that market are culpable when they make decisions that are guaranteed to disrupt lives.

The “negative” reporting coming out of the Oil Patch is not about being anti-oil or anti-development. It’s about being honest and forthright about the downside of an extraordinary upside. It’s about paying attention now to real problems before they get out of hand, before they become the norm.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.