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Heidi Shaffer, Published January 26 2011

Flood 2011: Fargo rushes to secure sandbags

Fargo is scrambling to order flood-fighting materials that are in high demand as communities throughout the region prepare for what could be a third straight year of major flooding.

The City Commission held its second flood preparation meeting in as many days, this time giving staff authority to begin acquiring sandbags, HESCO barriers and other flood devices.

The urgency came after Monday night’s meeting when engineers began hearing that suppliers are being flooded with requests for materials, said City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

“HESCO has been getting a lot of pressure from the Manitoba government to purchase all of their inventory plus everything that they can produce in the next month or so,” Zavoral said. “So they were encouraging us to move.”

A message left at Brock White Construction Materials, the city’s St. Paul-based HESCO supplier, was not returned Tuesday.

The Winnipeg Free Press newspaper reported Tuesday that the city, located about 220 miles north of Fargo along the Red River in Canada, is preparing for this spring’s levels to top their 1997 record by about a half-foot.

“The (sandbag) supplier is getting real antsy because he is being inundated with requests throughout the valley,” said Senior Engineer April Walker. “In fact, Winnipeg really wants the bags he’s got on hold for us.”

Commissioners on Tuesday approved almost $1 million worth of HESCO barriers, more than $300,000 for sandbags and about $480,000 for Aquafence units.

HESCOs are 15-foot units that can be filled with sand, and Aquafence units are reusable flood barriers. Both products are being used to substitute the need for as many sandbags as in years past, Walker said.

Such rapid-deploy products are quicker to install and require less manpower than sandbags, she said.

The city will seek Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement for all of the purchases, Zavoral said.

City officials plan to pay for the products upfront through general fund reserves, but can seek FEMA funding once a federal emergency declaration is made.

The governor can request a federal declaration once statewide expenses top $1 million, Zavoral said.

Commissioners on Tuesday also approved an emergency procurement policy similar to those passed in 2009 and last year.

The policy allows staff to get quotes on projects and products less than $100,000 without going through the regular formal proposal procedures, said City Attorney Erik Johnson.

All commissioners were present. Dennis Walaker, Tim Mahoney and Mike Williams participated via phone.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511