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This handout photo from Conveyor Application Systems shows how its Sand Tube system works. "Really what it does is create an endless sandbag," says Brent Whitley, general manager of the firm. Special to The Forum

Fargo officials ponder sand tube machine that could aid flood fight

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An Oregon company is offering to demonstrate a machine that produces sand tubes as a weapon that could be added to the arsenal if Fargo-Moorhead finds itself in a flood fight this spring.

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In fact, the machine made by Conveyor Application Systems was inspired by the sand-bagging heroics involved in fighting last year's record flood crest on the Red River.

The machine, which can carry about 10 tons of sand, can make and place the equivalent of 120 sandbags per minute, company representatives say.

That translates into a stack of sand tubes 1,000 feet long, forming a 3-foot-tall barrier, in less than 5½ hours.

"Really what it does is create an endless sandbag," Brent Whitley, general manager of Conveyor Application Systems in Eugene, Ore., said Tuesday.

The machine, which moves on rubber tracks designed to operate on delicate terrain, was adapted from machines used to produce tubes of soil to filter water running into streams after forest fires in the Pacific Northwest or to restore wetlands.

Local officials, who were just learning of the machine Tuesday when company representatives appeared on WDAY-AM to discuss its capabilities, said they are intrigued, but would have to explore its feasibility.

"The backyard thing is tough," said Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman.

Sandbag walls typically are used in areas inaccessible to the trucks required to build a clay levee, such as the backyards of houses along the river.

Last year, sandbag walls extending nine miles were built in Moorhead, Zimmerman said.

Because the machine moves on rubber tracks, it is more maneuverable than a truck, and has a comparatively light footprint, but requires a width comparable to a dump truck, Whitley said.

"So it will work very well in most instances," he said.

The machine is not a panacea, but it could complement other flood barriers, including sandbags and levees as well as sand-filled Hesco barriers, which were used in last year's flood fight.

"We'll evaluate it," said Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral. The city already was exploring the possibility of using water-filled tubes as a barrier to protect certain locations, such as golf courses.

The city of Moorhead used water-filled tubes last year to protect an area about seven blocks long near the Clay County Courthouse and law enforcement center.

"It worked OK," Zimmerman said, noting that most of the tube barrier was untouched by floodwater. "It wasn't a very good test by any means."

Tim Bertschi of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Fargo office said he would look into the machine and whether it would be useful in protecting against a flood.

"This is something new," he said. "We are hit with new products all the time. We do take a look at almost anything," but he added that clay levees have been proven dependable.

"Most of the products we use are out of necessity," Bertschi said. "We're always looking" for new tools.

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