November 16, 2011


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

To say that the McKenzie County Commissioners have struggled with the concept of developing a land use plan (zoning) for the county would have to be an understatement. They’ve toyed with the concept in the past. But on each and every occasion, the commissioners have chosen not to pursue the subject.
Obviously, in the past, the commissioners have felt that a private landowner’s rights to do what they wanted to do with their property trumped the rights of the landowner’s neighbors or the general public. And for that reason, McKenzie County remains one of the last counties in North Dakota that has no zoning requirements.
And to be fair to the commissioners, their past decisions have reflected the opinion of the majority of the residents. With little or no commercial or residential development occurring around the county, most residents simply didn’t see the need for another layer of government watching over what they were doing on their land.
But with the onslaught of new oilfield businesses setting up shop in McKenzie County, those days of no new developments in McKenzie County are long gone.
Instead of seeing a countryside that was once almost entirely devoted to agricultural use, today we see residential subdivisions, man camps, trucking firms and oilfield-related service companies springing up along every paved highway, scoria pits being developed, as well as fresh water depots and salt water disposal sites being developed.
The landscape of McKenzie County has changed more in the last two years than it has in the previous 100 years. And, according to many people in the oil and gas industry, the changes that we are seeing today are going to continue well into the future. Which means that there will be more and more development within the county as the development of the Bakken continues.
And that means only one thing. The residents of McKenzie County are going to see more and more agricultural land being turned into something that none of us had ever dreamed of seeing before.
There are those who will say all of the development that we are seeing is ruining the country. And they would be right in saying that. And there would be others who say that the new development is bringing with it newfound wealth and opportunities. And they would also be right.
Which brings us back to the need for the county commissioners to enact some form of land use planning or zoning.
If the way of life that McKenzie County residents have always known and loved is going to be preserved for our children, our grandchildren and for future generations, then the development that is going to occur in the future must be planned and regulated. And if that means that the county commissioners have to create a land use plan and implement zoning requirements, so be it.
Land use planning and zoning isn’t about taking away individual landowner’s rights. It’s about making sure that development occurs in logical areas and where the impact of that development has the least possible impact on our countryside and upon the people who call McKenzie County home. It’s about making sure that the people who want to develop areas are following the rules and regulations that are established by a planning and zoning board. But most importantly, a good land use plan with zoning keeps the decisions of how our county and our countryside looks in the future in the hands of the citizens of McKenzie County, not in the hands of out-of-state developers.
Rather than being looked at as being something bad, land use planning and zoning needs to be viewed as being the most important tool that the county can use to preserve the values that we all hold dear when it comes to McKenzie County.
If you want to learn more about land use planning then you need to attend the public meetings that the county commissioners are hosting next week. The meetings will be held at 1 p.m. (CT) on Nov. 22 at the Keene Dome; at 7 p.m. (CT) on Nov. 22 at the Grassy Butte Hall; and at 7 p.m. (CT) on Nov. 23 at the McKenzie County Courthouse Meeting Room.