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Valley City ramps up operation at Sandbag Central

VALLEY CITY, N.D. - The aches of this spring's flood fight were already being felt at this city's Sandbag Central on Wednesday. As a Bobcat skid-steer loader filled a mechanized sandbag filler, 19-year-old Krystal Hinschberger snugged another bag...

Valley City High School seniors Lyndsay Burns, right, and Thomas McAndrew fill sandbags
Valley City High School seniors Lyndsay Burns, right, and Thomas McAndrew fill sandbags at the North Dakota Winter Show south exhibition building in Valley City in preparation for the spring flood. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

VALLEY CITY, N.D. - The aches of this spring's flood fight were already being felt at this city's Sandbag Central on Wednesday.

As a Bobcat skid-steer loader filled a mechanized sandbag filler, 19-year-old Krystal Hinschberger snugged another bag up to the fill spout, put her foot on a pedal and pumped away to dump dirt into the bag.

"It starts to hurt in the hip after awhile," the Valley City High School senior yelled over the roar of the loader, "but this is a lot easier than lifting" sandbags.

How many bags had she filled so far?

"It seems like a million," she said.

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Valley City won't need a million sandbags to hold off the Sheyenne River this spring, but with a 1 in 3 chance of the river nearing the 2009 record flood level, city officials decided to increase the sandbag making goal from 50,000 to 150,000 bags.

City Administrator Jon Cameron said city officials met Wednesday morning and decided that forecasts warrant protecting the city to a 20.4-feet river gauge level. That's just a few inches shy of the 20.67 feet posted in 2009. That means building sandbag and clay levees to 22.5 feet to provide a couple feet of freeboard, he said.

Cameron said the high water is expected to hit April 14-16.

Clay levees will also be built in two phases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said. Areas without any levees will be built immediately to 22.5 feet. Other areas, where existing levees protect the city to about 21 feet, will not be built up unless warranted, he said.

"We have a fairly aggressive schedule," Cameron said.

Freshmen and seniors from Valley City High School got a good start on filling sandbags at the North Dakota Winter Shows south exhibition building. They made 3,500 sandbags in the first 75 minutes and perhaps 7,000 by 1 p.m., said Capt. Daryl Stensland of the Valley City Fire Department.

Students from Valley City State University were bused in for an afternoon shift, he said. High school sophomores and juniors will work today.

Thomas McAndrew, 17, held open sandbags as Lyndsay Burns, 18, poured shovelfuls of dirt into them from one of the six towering mounds of sand in the cavernous exhibit hall.

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"My house is in danger, so it definitely motivates us. I live down by the river," McAndrew said, remembering the 2009 flood, which overwhelmed the city's sanitary sewer system. "It's kind of déjà vu."

Wednesday's goal was to make 16,000 sandbags, Stensland said. Sandbag-making continues 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through Saturday, and continues again Monday as needed, he said.

The facility can handle 200 volunteers per hour.

"They're doing a good job. They work a whole lot faster than us old guys," volunteer coordinator Vern Hedland said of the high school students.

"We did this two years ago," Hedland said, reminiscing on the efforts of the 2009 flood fight. "We thought that was a 100-year flood. One hundred years comes around pretty fast."

Along Fifth Avenue Southwest, Cari Naeseth's home is protected by a levee put up in 1997. In 2009, four more feet of clay was laid on top. She hopes that messy event doesn't repeat itself this spring.

"I'm just praying that it won't," she said. "Nothing you can do about it."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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