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Faces of the Boom: Hectic life in boomtown ‘too much’ for couple

WILLISTON, N.D. – Raymond Allen began writing letters to the editor years ago when he saw something he didn’t like.

Those letters in the Williston Herald became a lot more frequent after the oil boom, which Allen says has brought more traffic, crowds, crime and dust to his hometown.

“We haven’t been happy with what’s transpired around here,” said Allen, who turns 66 this week. “Life has just gotten too hectic.”

Last week, Allen wrote what he called his swan song, his final letter to the newspaper as a Williston resident. He and his wife, Karen, have had enough and are moving on Tuesday to Hot Springs, Ark., away from the community where they’ve spent their entire lives.

“We’ll miss the people,” Raymond said. “I won’t miss the stuff that’s going on here.”

Increased traffic and inadequate roads are some of the top gripes for Raymond, who most recently worked as a truck driver hauling pipe for drilling oil wells. He has the police department on speed dial to report truck drivers who drive illegally through town or haul overweight loads.

“The stress level for him was getting really bad. He was crabby all the time,” Karen said. “He was not that way before.”

Karen, 61, who is originally from Fairview, Mont., just across the border from North Dakota, said she no longer feels safe after crime has increased with population growth. The couple said they had so many incidents of vandalism to their vehicles that their auto insurance carrier canceled their policy.

Long waits to get into restaurants and crowds at Wal-Mart and grocery stores are among other frustrations that prompted the couple to begin looking for a new home about three years ago.

“You can’t go anywhere without having somebody in front of you or behind you and 10 people deep at the checkout counters,” Raymond said. “It’s just gotten out of hand. There’s just too much.”

The family supports oil development. Raymond spent 48 years working in the industry, which allowed Karen to be a stay-at-home mom. Two of their three sons work in the oil industry in North Dakota. The couple recently sold their working interest in oil wells so they could buy a home in Arkansas and live comfortably.

But they say the pace of developing the Bakken has been too fast in a small area, and the state should have done more to slow it down and better support infrastructure needs.

“Oil has been good for us, but this here is just too much in an area that’s not able to accommodate what’s going on,” Raymond said.

They’re moving 1,455 miles away – far enough that Raymond says they won’t be tempted to come back to North Dakota except for graduations and funerals. They have no family in Arkansas and don’t know anyone there other than their real estate agent.

Raymond plans to work as a truck driver in Arkansas until he’s 70. The couple are looking forward to the quiet setting of their new home outside the city limits. They also are eager to ride their motorcycle again, a hobby they have been too afraid to enjoy recently due to the traffic.

“I’m going to be glad to be gone,” Raymond said. “Williston is not the same place, and it never will be the same place that we were happy. We’ve had some people say because of our attitude, we won’t be happy anywhere. But we didn’t have this attitude until the last two to three years.”

Dalrymple is a Forum News Service reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.

She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.

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