News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Are we ready for the boom?
Feb 26, 2012 - By Randy Tucker
"If a man could have half his wishes, he would double his troubles." No less an intellect than one of the greatest American's to ever live uttered this simple statement.
Benjamin Franklin's simple wisdom lives on 250 years after he first spoke the words.
Our elected state leadership is constantly second-guessing Wyoming's unstable economy. In effect they're trying to run a budget based on the whims of international politics beyond their control and domestic corporate politics designed specifically to "milk" as much money out the American consumer as is possible.
It is not an easy task.
A look to one of our nearby states to the north may provide insight into just what happens if the Legislature's wish for a prolonged boom were to take place in our little corner of the world.
North Dakota is booming, booming like nothing since California in 1849. Booming to such an extent that the law of unforeseen circumstances has become the norm in the western portion of the Peace Garden State.
There are 84 companies working in the gas and oil fields of North Dakota as of today with 258 wells in the ground and thousands more scheduled to begin, (yesterday if possible)
The mighty Missouri River runs through North Dakota, but tributaries are widely spread. The average well takes an excess of 2,000 semi-tanker loads of water to complete. Multiply the water truck's delivery rate by the 258 wells, and you get a tremendous demand on surface water.
All those tanker trips keep the road hot, or more literally, are destroying the surface of North Dakota's primary and secondary highways faster than they can be repaired.
Williston is the center of production at present. On one day in October of 2011 traffic monitors counted more than 17,000 semi-trucks crossing one intersection of U.S. Highway 85 south of the small town in just 24 hours. Do a little more math and multiply the average length of a tractor-tanker combination (70 feet) by 17,000, and you get a truck 225 miles long.
And you thought the New Jersey Winnebagos were bad during tourist season.
Highway 85 in North Dakota is the same little road that runs from Cheyenne to Newcastle through Torrington and Lusk. Imagine traffic outside one of those four towns backed up for a half to three-quarters of a mile each way, all day long and you get the picture of the effect the boom has on traffic patterns.
Once you get to work, where will you stay? A one-bedroom apartment in Williston rents for $2,000 a month with homes bringing up to $4,500 a month. Don't bring your camper trailer, either. There are no hook-ups available anywhere in the west half of the state and the waiting list is years long.
County ordinances only allow farmers to let a maximum of three campers on their property at one time.
The big stores of the area don't stock shelves anymore. They've resorted to removing shelves and simply setting pallets of goods on the floor each morning.
Crime is rampant. Handgun sales have increased 300 percent over the last three years, and pepper spray disappears so quickly that women stand in line to purchase it upon arrival.
North Dakota now leads the nation in per capita crime tied to meth, crack and alcohol abuse. Rapes, murders, assaults and other forms of violent crime represent an increase of several thousand percent in many small communities.
When a suspect is arrested, bonds are usually paid in cash, directly out of pocket with $100 bills. Cash flows, as banks can't keep up with the influx.
Williston sits in Williams County, where the sheriff has doubled his staff in just two years. New deputies get trailer houses as part of their initial employment and start at $46,000 a year, double the starting salary of local teachers.
Schools are not affected as much as other institutions. Most workers are in their 20sm and the few with families choose to leave them back home.
Williams County has an open hiring policy in all departments, with the county commissioners telling department heads to hire to the best of their abilities. Imagine that latitude compared the micro-managing done in Fremont County.
While imagining, how about a $500 signing bonus at the local fast food establishment with a starting wage of $15 per hour and full medical benefits?
Nearly every franchised fast food outlet has closed its dining room and operates just a drive-through window. The local restaurants have wait times from one to three hours long depending on the time of day.
The lowest room rate at the Motel 6 in Williston is $130 per night, with more upscale competitors charging over $300. They're all booked for months to come.
Strip clubs have sprouted like mushrooms around Williston, and most now run a "babe bus" from man-camps to the club, complete with strippers performing on the bus during the ride.
Williston's population was 12,700 in 2000 and has nearly doubled to over 23,000 as of last week.
The nearest regional hospital in Minot can't hire enough American nurses. Earlier this year 125 nurses from the Philippines were recruited and are now on staff. Minot is expected to double in size to 75,000 people in three years.
The message is clear. "Be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it."