Posted 1/11/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
With last week’s 4-0 vote by the county commissioners, McKenzie County went into the state’s history book as being the last county in North Dakota to decide that it was time to enact some form of land use planning and zoning.
For years, the vast majority of McKenzie County residents didn’t feel that there was a need to have someone in government looking over their shoulder and telling them what they could or couldn’t do with their land. And because of the county’s wide open spaces and sparse population, there really wasn’t a need for zoning. After all, McKenzie County was, by and large, purely an agricultural county.
So the county commissioners accepted the public’s sentiments and all was well and good. And although the subject of zoning was discussed a couple of times in the ’70s and ’80s, there never seemed to be enough of a public outcry for zoning to force the commissioners to get serious about protecting the county.
Maybe the belief that zoning wasn’t needed was steeped in everyone’s belief that nothing big was ever going to happen in McKenzie County. Or maybe it was the belief that if something big did happen it wouldn’t last very long or have a lasting impact.
After all, the last few times when zoning came up was during prior oil booms. And, as we all remember, those booms fizzled as quickly as they came.
So it was probably that belief that kept our county commissioners from acting sooner on enacting zoning in the county even as the development of the Bakken and Three Forks oil formations were forever changing the landscape of McKenzie County and other oil producing counties in western North Dakota.
McKenzie County has paid a very dear price by sticking to that “wait and see” attitude this time around.
Even though oil industry experts and state energy leaders were telling everyone that this was going to be a long-term development, McKenzie County failed to follow the lead of other impacted counties around us. While those counties either enacted or toughened their zoning regulations, McKenzie County could do nothing as it had no zoning rules to follow. As a result, McKenzie County quite literally became the dumping ground for a lot of bad development. When developers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, go through the process to meet the zoning regulations set by Williams, Mountrail, Dunn or Billings counties, they simply set up shop in McKenzie County.
Which is why we see temporary work force housing scattered everywhere around the county and trucking companies and oilfield offices next to rural residents.
Yes, it is easy to look back and say that we wish that the county commissioners would have enacted zoning rules and regulations 20 years ago. And no doubt, even today’s current commissioners probably wish the same thing.
As we all know, we can’t go back in time. That which is done, is done.
But because of the county commissioners’ decision last week to create zoning within the county, at least an effort can be made to minimize and control the impact of future development.