The Walmart in Williston, North Dakota, is saying “enough is enough.”
After months of allowing oil workers to park their recreational vehicles in the parking lot, the big box store started getting tough this week. The store posted notices Monday (February 6) that any campers not gone within 24 hours would be towed and impounded at the owners’ expense.
The bright yellow notices said the camping was causing safety, noise, litter, and property problems and would no longer be tolerated.
According to Walmart spokeswoman, Kayla Whaling, some RVs were towed Tuesday morning, the Williston Herald reported.
Whaling said the store sympathizes with the workers, who are facing a housing shortage, but said the situation reached a turning point based on complaints from the community.
“It’s just not appropriate for people to be living in our parking lot. We want to be good neighbors during challenging times,” she said. On the other hand, Walmart needs to provide safe, clean, and comfortable shopping for its customers and environment for its own employees, she said.
Whaling added that the store was teaming up with the Williston Police Department to get the vehicles removed and impounded.
Oil workers were allowed to use the lot due to a local housing shortage, but complaints from the community led to the eviction.
Dozens and sometimes more campers filled the lot for weeks or months before moving on, even though there were no water or sewer hookups. Some were living four or more to a small trailer without heat or electricity.
Women expressed fear of walking through the parking lot with the men living there and others said they simply quit shopping at the store because of the situation.
The Walmart parking lot in Williston, and the many people that have lived there during the past three years, have been featured in the New York Times, CNN, YouTube, NBC, and countless other regional, national and even international media organizations.
The parking lot has been called a “mecca” for job seekers and Williston’s “pioneer square,” and has become notorious by longtime locals and newcomers alike, the Williston Herald reported.
For many who have come to Williston seeking a new job and a new life during the past few years, it is one of the first places they go—with an RV in tow.
A section of the parking lot used to look like a trailer park. Every long-term trailer has been removed.
The parking lot has been the site of a continuing conflict of trailer owners moving in, being ticketed, and ordered off by law enforcement, sometimes moving out, and others moving in a constant ebb and flow.
The Williston Walmart has not allowed trailers to park overnight for some time. During the past year, store officials have routinely called police to come and ticket and tell those in the RVs to leave.
By the next day, however, a new group arrives, and the process begins anew.
At least, it used to.
Walmart has also hired a parking lot security guard, who was patrolling the lot Wednesday in a small SUV. The security guard wouldn’t answer any questions about his job or the removal of the trailers, but his presence seemed to coincide with the lack of campers, reported the Williston Herald.
“All I can tell you is I can’t say anything and you’ll have to talk to a manager,” he said.
Last year, the store installed height-restriction barriers on the entrances to the parking lot to prevent semitrailers from parking there. Until then, the store had been troubled with dozens of oil trucks and other 18-wheelers using the parking lot nearly every day.
Walmart has a reputation for allowing people on the move to pull off the highway for an overnight stay. In Williston, where housing is tight because of the booming energy fields, those overnights in some cases are turning into however long people can get away with staying there until they’re told to move along.
Every exit is an entry somewhere else.