North Dakota: “Hope Outlasts Prosperity In Town Flattened By Oil Bust”

“WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Even for a pandemic, Main Street is quiet, maybe the quietest it's been during the decade of furious construction that built western North Dakota's Bakken oil fields into the second largest oil-producing region in the nation.

In recent years, Watford City added hundreds of new apartments, a new high school and elementary school, a hospital, a law enforcement center, a sewer plant, a highway bypass, and even a community-built nonprofit day care. And, of course, an $83 million event center on a hill east of town, financed in part with a penny sales tax and an aggressive monthly repayment schedule that had many here nervous as oil prices began collapsing this spring and as the pandemic kept people from stores.

Both events have tested Watford City's vision of itself as a livable, small-town community that was able to find creative solutions to manage its growth from 1,744 people in the 2010 census to an estimated 7,835 last year. Williston, 47 miles north, also saw its population nearly double to 29,033 during the same period.

“There are constant reminders of the fragile balance between seizing an opportunity and overextending. It's definitely a balance,” said Vawnita Best, Watford City's community development director. “When you are North Dakota and have lived in a commodity-driven economy, you know that there are fluctuations and ups and downs, so you prepare for the difficult years and the lean times.”

Now, Watford City is waiting to see just how lean the times will be.”

Erika Bolstad reports for E&E News July 27, 2020.