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WDAY: The News Leader

Published October 09, 2010, 10:21 AM

ND trailer parks fill up amid concerns over winter

DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) — Dickinson mobile home parks and campgrounds once left desolately vacant after an 80s oil bust have been brought back to life amid resurrected oil activity and city officials are concerned for those who will be staying over the winter.

By: LISA ANNE CALL, Associated Press

DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) — Dickinson mobile home parks and campgrounds once left desolately vacant after an 80s oil bust have been brought back to life amid resurrected oil activity and city officials are concerned for those who will be staying over the winter.

"As a city we share concerns that have been expressed by other municipalities, counties, other political subdivisions, that the type of housing that is required to house all of the influx of energy workers may not be adequate during our harsh winters and the measures that are currently being taken, or the lack thereof, to winterize travel trailers, tents, you know, housing that is questionable in our winters, may not be good enough to ensure their safety and may actually harm them in the long run," said City Administrator Shawn Kessel.

Kessel said managers of both Heartland Homes on Dickinson's south side and North Park Homes on the north side have been contacted to make sure their tenants are aware of the approaching winter.

Not only is there concern with water and sewage pipes freezing, methods that may be used to keep them from freezing or unthawing them also pose concerns, Kessel said.

"The last three months have been leaps and bounds above what is normal," said Valarie Fugett, Heartland Homes general manager.

Heartland Homes reached RV capacity very quickly.

"They came pretty fast and furious," Fugett said.

City records show that on Sept. 30, 2009, about 143 units in Heartland Homes were charged for utility use, City Accounting Manager Tina Johnson said. Recently, 407 were being billed.

Heartland Homes has now amassed a waiting list, with 50 to 75 people waiting for a manufactured rental home and 15 to 20 people waiting for an RV space for the winter, Fugett said.

But, part of the delay and a difficult challenge being faced is financing, Fugett said.

"Basically what's happen to a lot of these workers is they're kind of displaced. I mean you know how the economy is in other parts of the U.S. and what's happening is they either lost their job and something happened with their finances that they either had to move and try to find a new job and obviously our area is a great place to do that, but they're bringing with them either bad credit or lack of job history which makes it really difficult for them to get financed," Fugett said.

While Heartland makes all attempts to work with residents, financial institutions are really "tight" on restrictions for loans, Fugett said.

"The poor people, they're just trying to feed their families and get back on their feet and it makes it really difficult for them to do that," Fugett said.

North Park Homes, located west of Wal-Mart Supercenter, has also experienced rapid growth.

Owner Ted Bratten said his campground has doubled in size over last year.

"The phone started ringing off the hook in March ... the people didn't start arriving until July probably," Bratten said.

City records show that on Sept. 30, 2009, North Park Homes had 27 units being billed. Recently, 40 bills were being sent out, Johnson said.

Sherry Adams, executive officer for Southwest District Health Unit in Dickinson, said the unit is working in conjunction with the state Department of Health to help license mobile home parks and ensure methods being taken to winterize are safe and sanitary.

St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center is also looking ahead to the winter with the mobile home park residents in mind.

"As far as the hospital is concerned, we think those people are doing the best that they can to winterize themselves, but at the same time just because we've lived through a few North Dakota winters, we too need to be ready for some not normal stuff that would come to our hospital," said Dennis Cannon, hospital spokesperson.

The hospital is discussing preparations for cold weather related issues and fire events.

"If something gets too hot and it starts on fire, what is it that would have to be prepared for to have a serious burn injury come to our place," Cannon said. "We'll definitely be prepared for what could possibly happen."

In the long run, Kessel said the use of heat tape and other measures taken to try and keep water lines from freezing such as using hay bales for insulation, is dangerous and can pose fire hazards.

Kessel said there is also concern for tents located at Patterson Lake.

"I'm not sure how long those people are going to try to make a winter in North Dakota or if they have other housing arrangements lined up for when the weather does turn poor I can't imagine surviving in a tent in North Dakota in January," Kessel said.

Concerns include frostbite, asphyxiation from excessive snow and emergency plans or lack thereof.

"We understand that there's many housing alternatives and they're all appropriate at certain points in time, but surviving a North Dakota winter is much different than winters in the southern states where a lot of these people have come from," Kessel said.

Fugett said as soon as residents move in, they are educated on North Dakota winters and what steps should be taken to winterize RV's.

Kessel said attempts are being made to create an educational video to air on the city's Channel 19, covering winter survival, what to do in the event of a winter storm and what resources are available and their locations.

With winter quickly approaching, many RV's have now taken on a new look.

Recently, a plethora of people in Heartland Homes labored to winterize their RV's, many skirting the bottoms with blue insulation sheets, covering in tarps and wrapping pipes in heat tape.

Last year, about 25 people stayed in North Park Homes during the winter. This year, Bratten said about 40 to 50 will stay.

The Villa family is one that will stay over the winter.

To start anew, New Mexico native Shayland Villa, moved to North Park Homes in June with her husband Jesus, a Texas native, and their 4-year-old son Jonathan.

Shayland said her family's move to Dickinson was a test of their faith, adding God brought them here.

"It's a really welcome place here," she said, adding they hope to stay permanently.

While Jesus Villa is working a week on, week off shift for an area oil company, Shayland takes care of the couple's son.

They often read, visit the West River Community Center, have play dates, ride bike and go for walks.

But, moving from a home into a travel trailer was a bit of an adjustment, she said.

"Some things come cram-packed and you have to really adjust for that," Shayland said with a copious amount of calmness. "For the winter, you wouldn't have to worry so much if you were in a house like as much as you do here. At least it's your own."

Texas residents Timothy and Tracy Payne arrived recently at Heartland Homes with their two cats and began settling in for their two-month stay.

The Payne's are keenly aware of North Dakota winters and will be winterizing their camper.

Traveling where the work is, Timothy will be working on the upcoming Enbridge Pipeline.

With a home in Texas, the Payne's correlate their lives to that of a gypsy.

"It's nice when you're climbing the walls to go somewhere new," Tracy said.

A plethora of license plates, from Mississippi to Utah, grace parking lots and mobile home spaces across the area. Many people are leaving loved ones and their families back home to come to North Dakota to make a living.

"In a way it's like the pioneers all over again," Bratten said. "Coming to western North Dakota is almost like taking off in a wagon and heading out west. You don't know what you're going to run into."

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