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Discarded RVs a nuisance for Bakken salvage yard

Tom Novak, owner of TJ's Salvage near Alexander, N.D., considers abandoned RVs to be a nuisance. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
Campers and RV's, abandoned in the Bakken oilfield slowdown, are parked together in a section of TJ's Salvage yard near Alexander, N.D. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
Clothing and other personal items are often left behind in the abandoned RV's. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

ALEXANDER, N.D. — Abandoned campers from across the Bakken line up end to end in a McKenzie County salvage yard.

The RVs, some burned or damaged and others with kitchen supplies still in the cupboards, were once in demand for oil boom workers who needed housing.

But as oil activity slowed and many workers left the area, the discarded campers wind up at TJ's Salvage along U.S. Highway 85.

"We're still getting lots of campers and it's gradually getting worse," said owner Tom Novak.

The yard north of Alexander continues to get about five to six campers each week as private landowners seek to get rid of discarded campers. In some cases, the RVs are no longer needed because affordable housing has become available.

"They're kind of a nuisance. But they were an epidemic that we knew was going to happen," Novak said. "Why would you drag some piece of junk with you back home 2,000 miles when you can just leave them behind and walk away? So we're left cleaning up the mess."

The salvage yard has had as many as 250 campers at one time, forming a perimeter around the yard that's highly visible from the highway.

Some say the salvage yard is an eyesore, but Novak said he also hears positive comments because without his business the campers would be scattered throughout the Bakken.

The business won't pick up campers, but will accept the RVs for $150, a lower fee than other facilities charge, Novak said. The campers are then crushed along with other vehicles.

The Williston, N.D., landfill used to get one or two RVs or trailers each month, but now gets very few because the landfill will only accept them if they've been stripped and broken down, said Williston Public Works Director David Tuan.

Salvage yard workers are often surprised at what the residents leave behind, ranging from baby toys to cosmetics to irreplaceable items like photo albums.

"If they lose their job and they're broke, they'll just take their personal belongings, pack one bag of clothes and they'll leave," Novak said.

Occasionally campers are in good condition, but others are beat up. The salvage yard avoids accepting RVs with signs of drug use.

"We get some that are really nice and clean and never been touched almost and we get ones that you could turn a pig loose in them and he'd turn his nose up because it's so bad," Novak said.

The campers have little in terms of salvageable material and the parts are a hassle to try to sell because they're often no longer working. Novak would rather concentrate on his main business, selling vehicle parts.

"The campers are just a pain," Novak said. "Don't bring no more."

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