The Williams County Commission on Monday heard appeals from Stallion Oilfield Services disputing $2.6 million in fines for allegedly operating illegal temporary housing.
Attorney Joel Gilbertson of Vogel Law Firm among other representatives of the company said there are discrepancies in how they and county officials count skid units, and that such variations have led to the imposed fine.
Robert Ryan, deputy general counsel at Stallion, said he takes issue with the “massive” fine amount, and wanted to make a reasonable solution for all parties.
Kameron Hymer, the county zoning investigator, said Stallion was originally approved for housing on 49th Street in June 2011. A request for 25 skid units and 90 beds was approved, but the company failed to follow the conditions of its approval and on July 3, 2013, county staff visited the site and counted 52 skid units and six RVs.
In August, the county commission denied Stallion’s request to renew its conditional use permit for temporary housing with the stipulation that all facilities used for housing be removed within 60 days, according to documents obtained from the planning and zoning department. After Stallion appealed, the commission extended the temporary housing permit for one year based on numerous conditions, including that the site couldn’t have more than 25 units and no campers allowed.
Ray Pacheco, director of the planning and zoning department, said he visited the location in September and counted 25 skid units.
However, when Hymer inspected the site on Dec. 5, he observed 54 units and four days later proceeded to impose the fine.
“Stallion is attaching five and six skid units together and calling them one unit,” Hymer has said.
Hymer fined the company for the 29 units over its approved amount and told them to remove all non-compliant units by Dec. 30.
Greg Heller of Stallion said nothing has changed since September, and that he thought the site was in compliance. What he considered one skid unit, the county considered to be four or five. He added the units don’t have inner walls and must be attached, thus the reason for attaching them together.
As of Jan. 1, Stallion started offering its employees housing allowances to move off location, Heller said. On Monday, the company had 84 employees living on-site. It lost 12 employees when the fine amount was publicized in the Williston Herald, as employees thought they may be evicted.
Levi Anders, an attorney representing Stallion, said he has contacted State Attorney Karen Prout on legal issues pertaining to the matter.
On Jan. 3, Stallion filed a notice of appeal with the Williams County District Court. Stallion appealed the imposition of fines and revocation of its conditional use permit granted from the commission. He said that according to county ordinances, the commission was supposed to hold a public meeting before revoking the conditional use permit.
Stallion representatives thought they were in compliance after Pacheco visited their site in September, Anders said. And after three months of non communication, they were surprised to learn they were out of compliance and being fined.
“The real dispute here is a difference in counting,” Anders said.
Agreeing with Hymer’s counting method, Commissioner Dan Kalil said the county doesn’t have to allow temporary housing of any kind but since they do, it’s expected that companies be compliant.
“We’re allowing these guests to come here and live in an unconventional manner,” Kalil said.
County officials discussed whether it was more efficient to count the number of beds rather than the number of units.
Pacheco said it was “almost impossible” to count all existing beds and his department has looked for signs of occupancy when counted units (e.g. trucks, heating).
“We can’t keep track of every employee living there,” Pacheco said.
Stallion argued they heated units in winter and that many of the structures counted weren’t occupied.
After much deliberation, numerous county officials joined Stallion on their location to inspect the units. The commission plans to decide whether to uphold the fine amount at their next meeting scheduled for Jan. 14.