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Mike Schultz, a surveyor for the city of Fargo, on Thursday marks the height that a 41-foot flood would reach on Oak Street. Crews will build a temporary levee at that height along the street. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Fargo, Moorhead gear up for sandbagging operations

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A "massive effort" to fill and stack more than 1 million sandbags in backyards and atop earthen dikes before March 28 gets under way today as Fargo prepares for a major flood.

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Moorhead, too, is gearing up for the flood battle, and the city announced Thursday it will provide residents with sand and sandbags. The city is also helping to coordinate a volunteer center that will operate Saturday.

Oakport Township north of Moorhead will provide residents with sand during a sandbagging push planned for the weekend. Cass County is also providing free sandbags and will partially reimburse sand purchases.

In Fargo, sandbag-filling operations will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and resume at 8 a.m. Saturday, going around the clock as the city aims to fill 1.3 million to 1.5 million sandbags, Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

"It's going to be a massive effort to protect the city to 40 feet," he said.

That's the upper end of a National Weather Service preliminary flood forecast for the Red River at Fargo. The forecast, released Thursday, calls for a crest of 37 to 40 feet between March 28 and April 1.

Fargo will need 500 volunteers by noon today at "sandbag central," the city utilities building at 2301 8th Ave. N., said City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

Volunteers were asked to call FirstLink at (701) 476-4000 starting at 8 a.m. today. Because of limited parking around sandbag central, buses will shuttle volunteers to and from the Fargodome parking lot every half-hour.

An estimated 880,000 sandbags will be needed just in the River Drive area of south Fargo, said Senior Engineer April Walker.

"It just takes a massive effort to get the bags filled, get them out to the community and then move them from the driveway to the backyards and get a good, solid levee built," she said. "So we are going to be looking for as many volunteers as possible down in that area to make sure we're secure."

The North Dakota National Guard has committed 200 soldiers to aid in the effort, and the city may ask for more, Zavoral said.

City officials said earthen dikes on Fargo's south side will be built to 42 feet to protect from overland flooding. Flood stage in Fargo is 18 feet, and major flood level is 30 feet.

Sandbags dikes along the river will be built to 40 feet, with enough base width to go to 41 feet if necessary.

Existing dikes in the Rose Creek area of south Fargo protect to 38.5 feet, said City Engineer Mark Bittner, so sandbags will be stacked about 3½ feet high on the dikes.

Survey crews will mark off the levels for dikes levels in backyards along the Red, which are the city's first line of defense, Walaker said.

"If they lose, we all lose," he said.

He urged homeowners to clear snow off dikes where sandbags will be stacked to hold back the river.

The lines of defense in south Fargo will be at 52nd Avenue South west of Interstate 29 and 64th Avenue South east of I-29, Bittner said.

The city will inform residents of the efforts during two public meetings Saturday.

Property owners with questions are asked to call the city engineering office at (701) 241-1545. The city's Web site also has interactive maps showing effects of different flood stages.

Walaker said the city bought two octopus-type sandbag-filling machines for $38,000 apiece. They were expected to arrive from Canada on Thursday night and be ready today.

With enough volunteers, the city should be able to fill about 300,000 sandbags a day, he said.

"We need to build a stockpile as quickly as possible and get ahead of the game a little bit," he said.

City of Moorhead

The city of Moorhead is setting up stations where residents can collect sand and bags for free.

In addition, a volunteer center will operate Saturday at Nemzek Hall on the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead. The site may be used for future sandbagging efforts as well, but dates have yet to be scheduled.

Moorhead-area residents who need volunteer help are being asked to contact FirstLink.

Volunteers are asked to show up at Nemzek Hall between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, where they can register to help and where buses will be used to transport people to work sites.

The city is also encouraging people to carpool.

Volunteers younger than 18 will need to have parents sign a waiver form that can be found on the city Web site at www.cityofmoorhead.com.

Moorhead is planning to set up 11 sandbag stations around the city, but additional sites are possible.

Locations expected to be up and running by this afternoon include Rivershore Drive North and Miller Drive; 2600 Fairway Drive N.; Ninth Street North and Ninth Avenue; Elm Street South and Sixth Avenue; River Drive South and 12th Avenue; River Drive South and 14th Avenue; Rivershore Drive South and 23rd Avenue; Rivershore Drive South and Brookdale Road; Rivershore Drive South and 32nd Avenue; Fifth Street South and 37th Avenue; Rivershore Drive South and 37th Avenue.

The sites will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To reduce the chance of the city's sewer system backing up during a flood, residents are being asked to make sure sump pump hoses drain into yards and not into the sanitary sewer system.

Also, homeowners are being encouraged to have drain plugs on hand that can be used to quickly plug floor drains and basement toilets if there is a threat of sewer backup.

The Moorhead engineering department will be answering phones from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

The phone number is (701) 299-5390.

Oakport Township

Oakport Township will begin stockpiling sand today at a distribution center at 14th Street North and Wall Street.

Officials said the plan is to keep the center stocked with sand at all times.

Sandbags will be distributed as well, but only when there are workers on hand to supervise the effort.

A sandbagging push at the Oakport site is planned for Saturday and Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days.

Residents with an urgent need for bags can call township officials for help.

Township officials will provide flood updates and answer questions at the township hall Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night, starting at 7 p.m. each night.

Oakport residents who have questions can call Greg Anderson, chairman of the township board, at (701) 238-6548.

Cass County

In rural Cass County, homeowners will need about 1 million sandbags, a steep jump from the 300,000 officials estimated were required under the previous crest projections, Cass County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness said.

The county is offering free sandbags at its highway department at 1201 Main Ave. W. in West Fargo, and will reimburse half the price of sand purchases for filling bags.

Neighborhoods to be affected by levee work

Sandbagging and/or earthen diking will occur next week in a number of Fargo neighborhoods:

• In the Red River corridor: El Zagal, Riverwood, North Oaks, Trollwood, Woodcrest/Ridgewood, Oak Grove, Belmont Park/Lindenwood Drive, Southwood/Country Club, River Drive/Harwood and River Vili

• In the Wild Rice corridor of southwest Fargo: Timberline, Copperfield Court, Oak Creek, Meadow Creek and Rose Creek.

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS - SATURDAY MARCH 21

Sandbag University is filling bags Saturday, March 21 at the following locations:

• Fargo

When: 8am to 8pm

Check-In Site: Fargodome Parking Lot

Who: We are looking for volunteers for 3-4 hour shifts from 8am to 8pm to fill sandbags.

• Moorhead

When: 8am to 8pm

Check-In Site: Nemzek Field House

Who: We are looking for volunteers for 3-4 hour shifts from 8am to 8pm to fill sandbags.

Other: Moorhead volunteers need to bring I.D.

YOU STILL NEED TO CALL the Volunteer Information Line at 701-476-4000 before heading out to a location. This is essential to allowing our volunteer coordinators keep track of volunteer distribution. Please check to see if a parking area has been designated so we can keep our sites safe and open.

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Mike Nowatzki
Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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