RYAN BAKKEN: Paying for sandbagging doesn't pay off
I hate to gloat, but . . . . . . I told you so. Actually, I don't hate gloating. I enjoy it. That's because gloating requires being correct, so it's a rare experience for me. I'm referring to my column on Feb. 20, when I served up the opinion tha...
I hate to gloat, but . . .
. . . I told you so.
Actually, I don't hate gloating. I enjoy it. That's because gloating requires being correct, so it's a rare experience for me.
I'm referring to my column on Feb. 20, when I served up the opinion that Moorhead's decision to pay its sandbag workers was a very bad idea. My words included these:
"It's like sub-contracting your church's bake sale to Little Debbie. It's like hiring a limousine service to deliver Meals on Wheels."
The point was that sandbagging is a volunteer endeavor. You diminish its worth by paying for it. Sandbagging serves at least two purposes: 1) It keeps water out of your living room; and 2) It develops community, a shared sense of sacrifice for the greater good.
Besides, I also noted two months ago, if you pay some people to fill sandbags, volunteers will be tougher to find. Who wants to labor for free while others are compensated for the same work?
That's precisely what happened. Moorhead estimated it would spend $166,000 on sandbagging labor, paying a day-labor company about $15 per worker hour. With fewer volunteers than anticipated, it actually spent $409,000 for the work.
Clearly, fewer people were interested in donating their time, backs and biceps for manual labor when others were compensated for the same rigors.
But unnecessary spending isn't the biggest issue, especially if federal and state emergency dollars cover the flood bill, which Moorhead city officials anticipate. More important is a lost opportunity for community-building and the pride derived from personal sacrifice.
It's also a lost opportunity for teenagers. With apologies to my teacher friends, teenagers learn more from a day of sandbagging than from a day in a classroom.
That would help to explain my vast brainpower. In the spring of 1969, my senior year at Crookston Central High School, students were excused from classes for a week to throw sandbags. It was the city's flood of record until 1997.
Mostly with sweat -- and no hired labor -- Crookston won the flood battle in an era when the only defense was burlap sandbags. I don't remember if the prevailing post-crest emotion was satisfaction in beating the river or disappointment in returning to Algebra II. But I remember that adults treated us differently.
So, when the next flood comes along, Moorhead city officials should be careful not to deprive their residents of their opportunity for character-building. They should look to other Minnesota towns along the Red River such as Oslo, where residents take vacation time or unpaid time off to protect others.
Smaller towns such as Oslo, population 309, know that the only way they can survive is to work together. Moorhead's 38,000 residents deserve the same chance.
Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to email@example.com .