web analytics
Your Independent Alternative!

Towns Fight for Census Numbers

STANLEY, N.D. - Up to eight men on rotating shifts live in temporary shelters plopped near the oil rigs where they work, earning up to $90,000 a year.

Even through the bitter winters, others live in trailers off Highway 2. A "man camp" on the eastern edge of this hamlet houses 300 oil workers. Others sleep in cars. The lucky ones snag a room in the only motel in town.

"To me, those are residents, obviously," says Mayor Mike Hynek, who both welcomes and struggles with the fallout of North Dakota's oil boom.

He says Stanley has grown this decade from about 1,260 residents to almost 2,000. "Our sewer lagoon system is now at max," Hynek says. "The police force is too small."

That's why all the burgs in this northwestern end of the state that struck black gold are greeting visitors with 2010 Census "Be Counted" billboards. They want all the people lured by plentiful oil jobs from as far away as California, Idaho, Michigan and Ohio to be counted locally.

The Census Bureau wants people counted where they were living on April 1 or where they spend more than half the year. About $435 billion a year in federal funds are distributed to communities based on the Census count.

Town officials here know that for everyone counted, they can get federal money for roads and sewer lines.

"We, as a community, want to grow," says Ward Koeser, mayor of Williston, a larger city to the west that is reaping oil royalties and bursting at the seams.

Williston's population was 12,521 in 2000 and is estimated at above 15,500 now. Officials expect it to hit 18,000 by 2013.

Drilling is happening at 4,600 oil wells in North Dakota. There are 12 wells to a rig, and 80 workers are needed to operate each rig. The number of wells is projected to hit 6,000 within five years.

"Help wanted" signs - a rare sight in many parts of the country now that U.S. unemployment is at 9.7 percent - dot store and restaurant windows here. North Dakota has the lowest jobless rate in the nation at 4 percent.@ The jobs are here, but housing isn't.

Energy giant Halliburton is using one of the rare new townhome developments in Williston to house workers. Single units may be home to three households. The Marquis Plaza&Suites turns away more than 50 people a day.

"If there was more housing here, we would have a couple of thousand more people," Koeser says.

Hunting the hard to find

The Census Bureau struggles to reach every American who has a mailing address (69 percent have sent back their forms so far). Another challenge is catching up with those who not only move from place to place but have unusual living arrangements.

Last month, Census workers counted people in "transitory places," from RV parks and marinas to circuses and campgrounds. For three days, they went to soup kitchens and shelters to count the homeless.

Now, they have deployed thousands of workers to count those who live in group settings - barracks, college dorms, nursing homes and worker camps.

"It's really tough," says Lori Hausauer, a Census crew leader who is focusing on oil towns and their transient populations.

A black-and-white Census bag over her shoulder, Hausauer canvasses every oil company to gather lists of workers' residences.

"If they're here, I have to count them," she says.

The Census will have to catch up with Tim Mahar, 51, who owns a hotel and RV park in Opheim, Mont., but now lives in Williston as a janitor for Halliburton.

He says he never got a Census form back home. The company is putting him up at a Super 8 for 45 days.

After that?

"I will probably rent something an hour away," he says.

Where to count them

Then there are folks such as Michael Wixom and Dan Seiler, tool pushers for EOG Resources, an oil and gas company in Stanley.

Wixom, 33, lives in Morro Bay, Calif. Since he was hired here 10 months ago, he works 28 days and is off for two weeks at home in California. He says he filled out a Census form in California.

Seiler, 24, is from Lander, Wyo. He filled out a Census form there. The two have bunks in EOG's "man camp."

So what happens when Census workers count everyone at the camp, even those who filled out forms elsewhere? Wixom and Seiler are both likely to be counted in Williston, where they spend most of their time.

Census workers will follow up to determine where each person should be counted.

Comments are closed.