Survey says …

We asked. You answered. The Press survey results show readers have mixed feelings on the boom’s impact; feel Dickinson is a worse place than it was 5 years ago.  

The oil boom has changed Dickinson and southwest North Dakota’s way of life — and a majority of people don’t like it, according to a Dickinson Press survey.

Of the 1,310 readers who voted in the survey online or through the newspaper over the last two weeks, 57 percent said they don’t believe the area is a better place than it was five years ago. Sixty-four percent have mixed feelings on the energy industry’s impact on the area, saying it has brought a combination of good and bad impacts.

In response to the survey’s results, Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said he understands there is a “significant minority” who have been negatively impacted by the oil boom, whether it’s because of increased housing costs, a higher cost of living or everyday issues, such as dealing with increased traffic or longer lines at the grocery store.

“In general, what’s happening here is good,” Johnson said. “But it isn’t good for everybody.”

Energy and population

Only 16 percent of those who took the survey — 208 readers — said they worked in the energy industry. Those readers viewed oil and energy’s impact on the area only slightly different than those who don’t work in the industry, with nearly the same percentage of people saying it has had both good and bad effects on the region.

Of the nearly 300 people ages 34 and under who took the survey, 24 percent responded that they worked in the energy industry. Fifty-five percent of that demographic believe Dickinson and southwest North Dakota is not a better place than it was five years ago.

Johnson said he thinks the reason some people believe Dickinson is now worse is because of the impact and stress the population increase has had on infrastructure. The mayor said the city is doing as much as it can to catch up, but that it takes time.

An example of this would be the weekend outdoor water-use ban brought on by historic usage and stressed city systems.

“The kind of infrastructure we have to build, it’s not something we can do overnight,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he believes Dickinson has between 25,000 and 30,000 people now — the 2010 U.S. Census counted 17,787 — but the city won’t do a special census unless it is confident the permanent population is above 25,000, not including those who may be here temporarily and claim residence elsewhere.

“If we can show we have 25,000 people or more, our extraterritorial zoning authority would extend four miles instead of two miles,” Johnson said, adding developers would also be able to bring in more amenities like stores and restaurants.

What we need

When asked, “What do you think we need more of in Dickinson and southwest North Dakota?” nearly every demographic viewed supermarkets and big-box stores, with examples such as Target and Sam’s Club provided, as the area’s biggest needs.

About two-thirds of all respondents said those were among the top five amenities missing from Dickinson. Restaurants and eating places, clothing and department stores, and recreation also ranked in the top five.

The results of the survey show that people may feel the city was a better place if they were provided more amenities and options for retail and dining, said Cooper Whitman, the executive director of the Dickinson Chamber of Commerce.

“You have such a large majority of people saying they don’t like all the changes,” he said. “Yet you have a huge percentage of people who say we need more of all this stuff.”

Seventy-five percent of people ages 50 and up said there was a need for more supermarkets. About 49 percent of survey respondents were 50 or older.

Only about 50 percent of people in age groups 34 and younger said the city needed more supermarkets, but more than 70 percent want more big-box stores and 66 percent checked the restaurants option.

Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said those numbers surprise him because he thought most people knew that two new supermarkets are scheduled to be built in Dickinson — one of which is under construction in the West Ridge subdivision — but said he understands that people are frustrated by the high price of groceries.

“Maybe that’s not as well publicized as I thought,” he said. “For a community of our size, we’ll have five legitimate grocery stores on the completion of those two, plus you have Menards, who offers a fairly robust share of groceries. I think if you took that poll next year, that would change.”

Bars and nightclubs ranked last of the 10 options given on that question, with barely 3 percent of respondents choosing it. More people wrote in the responses “police” or “law enforcement.”

Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger said he is encouraged by those comments, as his department works on its budget request for the next fiscal year. He said the police are requesting funding for more officers and staff.

“It’s nice to hear that the general public, they also believe we need more staff,” Dassinger said.

Ranking concerns

One result of the survey that Dassinger said isn’t surprising is that drug and alcohol abuse ranks third behind cost of living and affordable housing on the list of reader concerns.

Alcohol abuse has long been an issue for the area, but the sale of illegal drugs has grown along with Dickinson’s economy and population, the police chief added.

“A lot of crimes we deal with seem to be related to illegal drug usage,” Dassinger said.

Kessel said he thinks some of the survey results — especially the way respondents felt about the city being a better or worse place — is tied to crime and the perception of drug use by residents, both longtime and newcomers.

“The perception of crime certainly has affected people and the way they view Dickinson,” Kessel said.

Overall, readers feel that the cost of living and housing in Dickinson are the greatest concerns.

Kessel said both are frustrating for everyone, even at a government level.

“It’s one of the hardest things to deal with too, because the answers are so broad-based,” he said. “It’s very frustrating from our standpoint. What we hear all the time, affordable housing, the reasons for it all trace back to land prices and the ability for people to acquire land at a price that’s reasonable so that they can then develop that land for a reasonable price.”

Thousands of words

More than 500 people left comments in either one or both of two comment boxes made available in the survey, though the vast majority of readers remained anonymous.

A word cloud generator showed that respondents often used the words “people,” “living,” “oil,” “traffic,” and “crime,” as well as the word “good.” Readers ages 50 and over were more inclined to leave comments than younger age groups, with more than one-third doing so.

Many of the comments painted a picture of a community frustrated by issues brought on by growth — some of whom said they wished the city would go back to the way it was before the oil boom. Others said they no longer felt safe going to the store or even in their own homes and complained of noise disruptions in their neighborhood and along crowded streets. Some expressed grief over the environmental effects oil development has had on southwest North Dakota.

Johnson implored those who commented negatively on the survey to stand up make their voices and frustrations heard. He said the reader comments were interesting because he didn’t “sense that there’s a huge amount of frustration.”

“People are pretty understanding of what’s going on here,” Johnson said. “They know that the Bakken development creates a pretty extraordinary environment.”

Whitman, who has lived in Dickinson for less than two years, said he chose to move here primarily because of the area’s quality of life. However, he added that change isn’t always a bad thing for an area — particularly Dickinson, where there seems to be no end in sight to the growth and changes.

“The healthiest attitude to have is that understanding that change is going to come, we might as well embrace it and shape it to how we want it to look,” Whitman said. “If we fight the change, it’s going to happen anyway, and we’re not going to like the way it happens.”

ACCOMPANYING COLUMN: Patience will pay off for Dickinson

If there’s one thing Dickinson needs, it’s a little more patience. Patience to get around town. Patience at the supermarket. Patience to use our sprinklers until the city says its water supply has caught up.

The problem is, this is a society where patience doesn’t come to mind much. Our society is too fast-paced, our lives are too busy and when things move a little slow, people demand they move faster or as fast as they think it should — even when that pace is impossible or even unsafe.

In The Press’ reader survey, the wondering why it’s taking so long for our city to implement the changes necessary to catch up. In some cases, it seems like all people really need to be happy is to be able to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings tonight and make it across town a little faster than traffic is allowing them. They want more supermarkets (one is under construction now) and a new movie theater (that’s also coming), but would rather move away than wait for either.

A lack of patience was on display this weekend when city officials told Dickinson residents to conserve water by halting their use of outdoor sprinklers and holding off on washing their cars for a couple days to allow city water tanks to replenish after a historic day for water usage.

It was a pretty simple request. Multiple people blasted the decision on social media. “I pay to use it so I’m going to use it,” one man wrote on our Facebook page. On Saturday, just down the street from my house, a family was in their backyard using an inflatable pool and an inflatable water slide.

The city is on track to catch up with the population boom. But putting in new water lines and building new water towers takes time, as does constructing new supermarkets and restaurants. Unfortunately, it is true that Dickinson is the last place new businesses are building.

Our population influx isn’t as apparent as Williston or Watford City — which says something good about Dickinson. It says the city is keeping up. Yes, there are issues and problems that need to be addressed, but that is happening.


Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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