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Erik Burgess, Published April 16 2013

Sandbag Central to reopen Thursday, aiming for at least 500,000 more bags

FARGO – With the chances escalating for a big flood this spring, the city is firing up Sandbag Central again on Thursday with the goal of making at least 500,000 new bags.

City officials also decided Tuesday to spare from demolition the only city-owned home still occupied in the flood-prone Oakcreek neighborhood in south Fargo. Seven bought-out and vacant homes there will be demolished starting Thursday in order to put up a temporary clay levee.

Following a weekend snowstorm that dropped nearly an inch of moisture in the southern Red River Valley, officials decided to reopen Sandbag Central at 8 a.m. Thursday.

The city is preparing to build protections to 43 feet, which would require 1.8 million sandbags and protect against a 41-foot crest with 2 feet of freeboard. The city has 1.3 million bags in storage.

The later the cold weather sticks around, the more likely it is that there will be a fast melt paired with spring rains.

“We’re very concerned,” said Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney. “In 125 years, we’ve never had a crest later than April 19. That’s this Friday. So we’re in uncharted waters.”

Mahoney said the 500,000 new bags would be a “minimum” goal, and that the city still hopes to make around 100,000 a day over the eight days that the site will be open. With half the bags going to Cass County, the city’s sandbag operation filled 1,081,600 bags in nine days before closing the first time around last Friday.

After a more accurate outlook is given by the National Weather Service today, the city could be reaching out for more volunteers to make bags, including area ninth-graders, Mahoney said.

Oakcreek has been one of the Fargo neighborhoods with the greatest need for sandbags. It represents 25 percent of the city’s sandbagging effort when protections are built to 40 feet, according to City Engineer April Walker.

City Commissioners decided Monday to bulldoze eight buyout homes along the creek there and set up a temporary clay levee. Crews will start tearing down homes Thursday, a project that will cost about $208,000 and take about a week to complete, said Nathan Boerboom, division engineer for the city.

One house will get a reprieve, though. Stan and Judith Schulz sold their home at 4477 Oakcreek Drive S. to the city last year, but they still live there, renting it from the city. The couple was told Tuesday that they could stay, and that the city will be protecting that home with a temporary TrapBag levee.

Judith Schulz said they were planning on renting the house from the city until July. They’ve lived there since 2007.

“Our plan was to stay as long as we could. We’ve got family, and children in school,” Stan Schulz said. “We didn’t want to have to move. We didn’t expect another flood year. We figured we’ve been through three already.”

The city is still working on finalizing permanent flood protection for Oakcreek, where neighbors had been divided about keeping or demolishing the bought-out homes.

Cass County will be partnering again with Fargo in the reopening of Sandbag Central, but it’s not yet known exactly how many more bags the county will need to protect against a 41-foot flood, said county administrator Keith Berndt.

Berndt said building county protections to 43 feet would take “many additional bags,” and some homes can’t be protected at that level.

“If we get the worst-case scenario that the weather service is talking about, there’ll be flooded homes in rural Cass County,” Berndt said.

The city was originally planning to use around

1.1 million bags to build levees to 40 feet, while the county was planning on utilizing 500,000 bags. Fargo already had 750,000 sandbags in reserve from 2011.

Sandbag Central will be operational 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through next Friday, April 26. It will be closed Sunday. It is located at 2301 8th Ave. N., Fargo.

Volunteers are asked to call (701) 476-4000 to register for a shift.

Fargo will be holding a flood preparation meeting at 8 a.m. Friday in the City Commission Room.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518