March 31, 2010


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

If there is one thing that the McKenzie County Commissioners have continually held sacred over the years, it has been the right of a landowner to do what they want with the land that they own. And the commissioners should hold that right sacred.
But what happens when the decisions of one landowner negatively impact another landowner or his neighbors? Simply because a person owns the land does that give them the right to do anything that they want on the property or to allow someone else to do something on it that others may find offensive. In other words, does private landowners rights always trump what some may call community rights?
For the last 100 years because McKenzie County’s economic engine has been agriculturally-based, there really hasn’t been a need for the county commissioners to spend much time discussing the need to establish zoning ordinances or otherwise limiting what a landowner can do with their property. For the most part, farmers and ranchers worked out their differences between themselves as neighbors and friends. And when those differences couldn’t be settled any other way, they let the court system help them resolve the matter.
But with what is now happening in McKenzie County as a result of the huge upswing in energy development, it may very well be time that the county commissioners take a look at how they want to see development occur around the county and where they want that development to occur.
And there are issues on the horizon that will need to be addressed in a logical well-thought-out manner soon or the commission, as well as impacted residents, will be forced to react to development proposals with a knee-jerk reaction.
What are the big issues? Housing, for one.
Finding housing for all of the people that could be moving into our area is a complex issue. It is going to require the creation of man camps, RV parks, trailer courts, multi-family housing units and single family housing.
Most of us understand what is involved in creating trailer courts, RV parks, apartments and single family homes. What we don’t understand is the concept of creating man camps where skid shacks provide housing for temporary employees in the oil field. What is not known is how temporary is this housing. Will it be around for six months to a year. Or will it be a fixture for five to 10 years? Obviously, there is going to be a need to have this type of housing in the mix. The question is where will these units be located? And depending upon where they are situated, there can be obvious concerns raised by adjacent landowners and homeowners dealing with appearance issues as well as increased traffic on local roads.
Second, is all of the aspects associated with increased energy development, which no doubt will have the biggest long-term impact on the county and its residents.
The projected growth of the energy industry along with the likelihood of new service companies and trucking companies setting up a base of operation in the county over the next several years is going to create opportunities as well as challenges, as will the possible development of wind farms in the county. Wind farms are sprouting up all over North Dakota, and it is only a matter of time before one becomes a reality in McKenzie County.
Obviously, the vast majority of these new businesses and industries are going to be located on private property outside the limits of a city’s jurisdiction and zoning requirements.
And that means that the ultimate responsibility for determining how the county is going to look as these possible development opportunities present themselves in the years to come is going to rest squarely on the shoulders of the county commissioners. The commissioners can continue to let the landowners exclusively decide what they want to see happen on their land, or the commission can try to develop a framework that will allow for the growth under a controlled and regulated environment.
Is zoning the answer? It may be. Is the development of a county land use plan the answer? It may be.
All we know for sure, is that unless something very dramatic occurs in the oil patch, McKenzie County is going to see huge changes in the future.
Therefore, it is important that we recognize that this change is coming and work to develop plans that will accommodate the growth of new business and industry in a manner that will preserve and protect all of the values that we hold so dear to us.