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Moorhead seeks volunteers for sandbag-filling site opening Monday

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Moorhead will start its 2010 flood fight Monday with the opening of a sandbag-filling site on the north side of town the city hopes will be manned with volunteers.

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With a goal of having 300,000 sandbags ready and waiting for a potential flood, the City Council on Monday approved spending up to $550,000 out of city reserves to prepare for and battle a flood.

About $34,000 of that amount will be spent on a 12-chute "spider" machine that can fill 5,000 sandbags an hour.

It may take two or three weeks for the machine to arrive and get set up at a public works facility near 29th Avenue and 41st Street South in Moorhead.

In the meantime, the city will open a manual sandbagging operation Monday at a public works facility in the 700 block of 15th Avenue North.

The northside site will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

The city is asking volunteers to work at the northside site until the southside sandbagging facility can be set up using automated equipment, though that location, too, will need volunteers.

Free delivery

Officials said the city will deliver filled sandbags to homes at no charge. If people decide they want to buy their own sand and bags the city will reimburse them for the cost.

The 300,000 filled sandbags the city hopes to store in heated buildings should be enough to protect Moorhead to a flood stage of 38 feet, officials said.

If it appears the Red River will go higher than that, the sandbag filling machine the city plans to buy should provide whatever additional sandbags the city needs, said Chad Martin, operations director for the city.

Mayor Mark Voxland added that if a flood drains sandbag reserves and starts to outpace sandbag production, sand and empty bags will be distributed to specific neighborhoods for volunteers to fill them where they are needed.

If it appears volunteer help will not be enough to meet Moorhead's sandbag needs, officials said about $100,000 of the $550,000 the council earmarked for the flood flight could be used to hire temporary labor.

'Rumor quashing'

Voxland said this spring's plan is a major change from the past, when the city dropped piles of sand and empty bags in neighborhoods for homeowners to use as needed.

"We thought this year we would try pre-building the sandbags, have that 300,000 number, which is about how many we need to get us to about 38 feet," Voxland said.

If the flood is worse than that and the city needs another 150,000 to 200,000 sandbags, "We're not starting at zero, we're starting at 300,000," Voxland said.

To keep confusion about what is happening on a given side of the river to a minimum, Voxland said during a major flood Moorhead and Fargo will hold separate morning news conferences to provide each city with an update on its particular situation.

Fargo will hold a news conference at 9 a.m., followed by Moorhead's at 10 a.m.

Voxland said a joint news conference will be held at 2 p.m. to update people on the latest developments and to work on "rumor quashing" and nipping in the bud any erroneous information that may be circulating.

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