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Moorhead's plan to pay sandbaggers attracts many job-seekers

MOORHEAD - Darren Watson's day labor company was swamped with calls Tuesday morning from people looking to help Moorhead's flood-fighting effort - for money.

MOORHEAD - Darren Watson's day labor company was swamped with calls Tuesday morning from people looking to help Moorhead's flood-fighting effort - for money.

Some of those phoning the Heartland Labor agency in Fargo are college students wondering if they could fit some hours in after class, said Watson, referring to the interest sparked by Moorhead's announcement Monday that it would pay people to fill sandbags.

Watson's company was selected by Moorhead to help organize the effort.

The city wants at least 100 workers on duty at all times during the 12 to 16 hours a day it plans to operate two automated sandbag-filling machines.

The work is expected to start Tuesday, and the city hopes to have 1 million sandbags filled within seven to 10 days.


Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger said the automated machinery and custom-designed equipment being set up at the city's "sandbag factory" at 4141 30th Ave. S. are unprecedented for this area.

He said the decision to use hired help was based on the need to make the most efficient use of all of that hardware. It will save volunteers from a tough and dirty job, he said.

"We think this is good for the volunteers, and we think it's good from an efficiency standpoint," Redlinger said. "It allows us to finish up this work so we can get out to serve the customer: Our customer is a riverfront property owner who needs our assistance."

Moorhead expects the sandbag labor to cost a total of $166,000, with the city paying Heartland Labor a rate of about $15 per worker hour, Redlinger said.

With other anticipated expenses figured in, Moorhead is already looking at a flood bill of nearly $800,000.

The money will come out of general fund reserves, which now stand at about $6.1 million.

The city's flood-fighting costs could be reimbursed if Minnesota receives a federal disaster declaration.

For Minnesota, the threshold for such a declaration is about $6 million to $7 million in damages statewide.


Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland has already declared a flood emergency in Moorhead, a first step on the road to receiving a federal disaster declaration.

In Fargo, where sandbag filling efforts began Monday, city leaders discussed paying people to fill sandbags but decided to rely on volunteers.

"We thought we'd reach out to the business community to see whether or not there could be an opportunity there," said Pat Zavoral, city administrator.

By getting businesses and their workers involved early, Zavoral said the hope is no businesses will be adversely affected by a flood.

"We've been successful in the past with it (volunteer labor), and I think we'll be successful this time, too," said Zavoral, who doesn't see potential workers heading for Moorhead to fill sandbags for dollars.

"What we've seen in the first two days would suggest people are ready to volunteer," Zavoral said.

Redlinger stressed that volunteers will remain a critical force in a flood fight once sandbags have been filled and transported to warehouses in the area.

Volunteers will help load sandbags onto pallets and help build sandbag dikes in Moorhead neighborhoods, Redlinger said, with that work likely starting Feb. 28.


Just where the first sandbags will go is being worked out because the city is in the process of identifying "pacesetter" neighborhoods.

Residents from other neighborhood zones will be invited to pitch in and observe at the pacesetter sites and those individuals would then use their experience to lead flood fights in their own neighborhoods, said Redlinger, who added that some residents are already clearing snow to make room for sandbags.

"They know where the sandbag line is going to go," he said.

Heartland has a large number of potential workers on file, but Watson said he expects they will need 200-300 more to handle Moorhead's needs.

He estimated the hourly wage will be in the neighborhood of $9 or $10.

Watson's agency is accepting applications from people 18 and older.

Applicants will need to show a photo ID and a document indicating they are work eligible: such as a Social Security card or a birth certificate.

Watson said the first step to getting hired is to call his agency at (701) 235-4099.


The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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