BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Concerned that a Colorado company appeared to be turning an old school building in the tiny town of Almont into dormitory-style housing for oil workers, city officials called a rare special meeting and banned such so-called man camps.
The ordinance passed Monday in Almont — a town of about 100 people 35 miles southwest of Bismarck — illustrates a growing tension in western North Dakota, where temporary housing has risen from the plains to accommodate a massive oil boom. Mountrail and Williams counties also recently put moratoriums on new crew camps.
In Almont, rumors were enough to spur the council to take pre-emptive action amid concerns that the camp could overwhelm resources. Residents had noticed "bed after bed after bed" being moved into the building after it sold last month, City Auditor Lynne Jacobson said.
"We would lose the quality of life here," Jacobson said. "We like our quiet little town."
Almont has no police force and boasts little more than a bar, a post office and a gas station that's only open during bank hours, Jacobson said. The last reported crime in Almont was two years ago and involved car windows being broken by vandals. The man camp would mean traffic would increase — and so could crime, Jacobson said.
"Our community just can't support a massive amount of people moving into it," Jacobson said. "It's not that we don't want people moving into our community — we do," she said. "We just don't want to be inundated with oil workers."
City officials have been unsuccessful in notifying the building's new owner, Terry Lorentzen of Grand Junction, Colo., that man camp-type housing won't be allowed in town. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Lorentzen also were not successful. A telephone listing for Lorentzen's business in Colorado has been disconnected.
The farming community, like many in rural North Dakota, has seen its population drop for years. Less than five miles from Almont is the former city of Sims, now largely boarded up and silent.
The building was a former school that closed about four years ago because of lack of children. The city's fire district sold it last month at auction for $15,250. Frank Melchior, president of the Almont Rural Fire Protection District, said there were three bidders on the 2,400-square foot building, with the winning bidder coming from the owner of a Colorado construction company.
Though the man camps have popped up elsewhere in western North Dakota, city officials say they were surprised by the development in Almont, which is about 50 miles from any significant oil activity at present.
"Everywhere in western North Dakota these things are trying to be stopped," Melchior said. "We never expected it to be here this soon."
Council member Gretchen Feland said the potential of a man camp may be the biggest issue ever to come before the body. The council, which typically meets once monthly, called two special meetings in the past week to address the issue.
"Usually our agenda items address people who have overgrown lots or junk cars in yards, things like that," she said.
Melchior said the purchase of the school has not been finalized and the city would be willing to reimburse Lorentzen.
"We would like someone to turn the school into a steakhouse, or apartments so families could move in," Feland said. "We really don't want a bunch of men living in a building all together."