FARGO — When Fargo first learned that Red River flooding this year could break the 2009 record, they decided to prepare for the worst by filling a million sandbags.
But as the forecast improved, sandbagging operations stopped before volunteers filled almost 400,000 bags, and in the end, only 10,000 were used.
So what happened to all of those unused sacks? Most of them are being stored on pallets outside the Fargo Public Safety Center, Solid Waste Utility Director Terry Ludlum said.
“Now we are kind of prepared for that same level for next year,” he said, noting that he couldn’t predict what next year’s flood waters would do.
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The National Weather Service indicated on March 15 there was a 10 percent chance the Red River in Fargo could reach 40.3 feet, just inches below the 2009 record of 40.8 feet. There was a 5 percent chance the record could be surpassed, but the river crested at about 35 feet on April 8. It was the first time the flood walls in Fargo had been tested since they were built.
Mayor Tim Mahoney said he was happy about how many volunteers came out to help fill bags. Whether the city would get enough helpers is always a question when fighting floods, but families, businesses, students and athletes showed up to keep Fargo safe.
"We were very excited about how well people came together," Mahoney said, adding he wanted to thank everyone who volunteered.
Fargo shut down its sandbagging operations a little more than a week before the crest, though volunteer slots were booked for the week leading up to the crest. The official count for Fargo’s sandbagging production was about 391,000, and about 10,000 were used.
The river has steadily stayed below the minor flood stage of 18 feet since 8 a.m. Thursday, May 16, according to the weather service.
This will be the third time Fargo has tried to store sandbags outside after the bags weren’t used in the flood fight, Ludlum said. Previously, the city tried to store the bags inside, but the humidity made it difficult to take care of the building.
“We usually see pretty good results for probably a year or so,” Ludlum said of storing the bags outside, adding he expects only a small percentage will be lost.
The stored sandbags will be covered to protect them from the elements, he said. Sandbags that were used in the flood or expire in the future will be used to stabilize landfill liners to protect the ground from garbage seepage.
Moorhead also didn’t need to use most of its bags for the flood fight. Volunteers filled about 55,000 sacks but only deployed 1,000. About 35,000 will be stored for future use, while the rest will be disposed of or reclaimed for ice control, Moorhead Public Works Director Steve Moore said.
Cass County produced about 100,000 sandbags and provided an additional 40,000 empty bags for residents to fill, County Engineer Jason Benson said.
“We still have about 20,000, and right now … they’re inside of one of our storage facilities,” he said, adding they can last two to three years if stored inside.
Other than basement flooding and being stranded for several days in their homes, Benson said he didn’t hear of major flood loss to homes.
“The cleanup for some people was more challenging than others,” he said.
Crews have been sent out to pick up bags from rural residents. The bags will be shredded, but the sand can be reused for other purposes, he said.