On a large flashing sign next to the highway, the Value Place hotel advertised rates of $699.99 a week, well above rates for its other hotels around the country. Some people living in campers said they pay RV park owners $800 a month to park and hook up to water and sewer. Classified ads in the local Shopper listed a furnished two-bedroom apartment for $2,200. A trailer with a queen bedroom listed for $1,650 a month.
Though some longtime residents are getting big mineral payments from the oil, others struggle to continue living there, even though wages are going up, too.
Gordon Weyrauch, manager of Williston Home & Lumber, said it's hard to keep good employees even at $16 an hour: "Seems like when you get somebody that's really good, there's always another company stealing them away."
A sign outside the local Wal-Mart advertises starting wages of $17 an hour.
Some desperate employers are acting as landlords.
The new Love's truck stop built a small yellow apartment building next-door for employees. The Williams County government erected an apartment building to offer new county workers an affordable place to live.
Long lines, frustration
Locals complain that daily life has changed, too. They can't run an errand quickly anymore. The area's small towns feel more like urban centers.
About 45 miles south of Williston, Watford City has a 2010 census population of 1,700, but local officials estimate it is serving 8,000 to 10,000, including trailers that have packed into RV parks. License plates traversing the town's main street range from California to Texas to New York. "When you walked in the grocery store, you used to know everybody," longtime resident Vonnie Johnsrud said.
She stood in a slow-moving line at the post office last week to pick up mail-ordered blue jeans over her lunch break. "This is like road rage. Totally frustrating," she said, to the knowing nods of mostly strangers around her.
When she finally reached the front, her lunch break over, the clerk found another small package, but no jeans.
"I tracked it online. It's here," Johnsrud said, her voice spilling with anger.
"It's here, but it's not on the shelf. We haven't inventoried yet," came the helpless reply. "It's in a big box full of 200 other packages."
"I'm not gonna wait in line another hour tomorrow!" Johnsrud snipped before storming toward the door.
Paying a price
While towns are bustling, the lucrative life can be lonely.
Erik Morin, of Oscoda, Mich., sat in a Watford City laundromat on a day off recently, waiting for his clothes to dry and taking calls from his teenage children and wife.
Bankrupt after he was laid off from General Motors, he now works overtime six days a week and pays $600 a month to live in a sparse crew camp.
He had planned to stay a few months, but 1 1/2 years later, he's still there because "a hundred grand a year is kind of addictive."
But Morin, 34, knows he's paying a price. His 15-year-old daughter complained over the phone that her mom wouldn't let her go to a wrestling match. Then his wife called, asking him to talk to the girl. "I'm trying to mediate that from 1,500 miles away," he said.
"I'm watching my kids grow up in pictures," he said, adding that his family visited over the summer but didn't like it. "Every time I go home, it's sooo hard to come back."
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