Job activity, construction pace in Williston still brisk

By Ann Bailey | November 04, 2015

Activity in the Bakken oil patch may have slowed down, but construction and job activity in Williston, N.D., has not.

The Williston area has a shortage of workers from truck drivers, to pharmacists to teachers, said Cindy Sanford, Job Service North Dakota, customer service office manager in Williston.

“We’re still catching up. We don’t have enough people,” Sanford said. The Williston area needsworkers who have skills in specific areas, she said. For example, there is a “huge’ shortage of diesel technicians. Starting pay at jobs in that field is from $20 to $25 per hour and those workers have from 10 to 20 hours of overtime weekly, Sanford said.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday two oil company representatives who came to the Williston Job Service office said they each needed 10 drivers, she said. “We also have people coming and telling us they are going back to work for certain oil companies starting in December,” Sanford said.

The pace of construction in the city of Williston also is frenzied.

“We’re very busy,” said David Tuan, Williston public works director. “We’re playing catch up, that’s what it is. The city can’t build fast enough.”

This year, the city’s construction projects will total $70 million and next year, $65 million, Tuan said. The city steadily is working to catch up on putting in place the amenities needed for a population that rapidly has grown to 35,000 people, he said.

“The biggest, in terms of dollar value, is our utilities,” Tuan said. The city is building a wastewater treatment plant, a water treatment plant and a landfill. Most cities don’t schedule those three projects at the same time because they are expensive. However, the population in Williston has grown so rapidly that it’s necessary to get the projects done as soon as possible.

Williston’s wastewater treatment plant is continuously undergoing renovation, Tuan said. During the past seven years, the capacity of the plant has been upgraded four times to increase capacity from 5 million to 28 million gallons. Typically, the capacity of a water treatment plants is expanded every 30 years, Tuan said.

Besides construction of the wastewater treatment plant, water treatment plant and landfill, the city also is building and improving other Williston infrastructure.

The city has grown from seven square miles, pre-oil boom to 23 square miles, which means that roads, water and sewer lines have to be put in place. Road construction is under way in former farm fields where there never before have been roads, Tuan noted.

Another project that the city will undertake is replacing the 800 acres in the center of the city that is the site of the airport with other development or a public space. The airport is moving to the northwest side of the city so the former site will be developed for another use.

Although, some people might look at the Bakken oil patch and see a slowdown in activity, that’s not the view from where Tuan sits.

“The rest of us are as busy as we ever have been,” he said.