Fargo and Moorhead squabble over sandbags

MPR photo Ann Arbor Miller

Fargo and Moorhead are divided by the Red River and a state line, but the two cities work closely on many issues.

But this year, sandbags are causing a bit of a tiff.

Filling sandbags is physically strenuous, tedious work. The last couple of years both cities relied heavily on volunteers to do that work. Some financial incentives were offered for groups who participated as a way to bring in volunteers.

This year Moorhead decided to make the switch to paid labor for filling all sandbags. They'll use a temp labor agency to supply the workers who are expected to earn $9 to $10 an hour. Lots of people signed up. Total cost is expected to be about $160,000.

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The move ruffled some feathers on the Fargo side of the river where the city relies on volunteer labor. Fargo offers what are known as Denny's Bucks for bags, named for the Fargo mayor. Non profit groups earn $75 for every 100 hours volunteers put in filling sandbags.

There's some concern college students might choose to work in Moorhead for pay rather than volunteer. The decision caused the Fargo Forum to recently opine: "it's the apparent disdain for the community-building principle of volunteerism that ought to rile residents of Moorhead."

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland defends the change which he says was made for a couple of reasons. Voxland says the city mechanized it's sandbag operation this year, adding sandbag machines like the one below. Instead of stacking the filled bags on pallets like in the photo, a conveyor belt will load the bags directly into a truck.

Voxland says safety of volunteers working around moving equipment is a concern. The mayor also says it's a challenge to get enough volunteers to keep the sandbag operation running steadily.

MPR photo Ann Arbor Miller

Moorhead will need volunteers to build the sandbag dikes along the river in a few weeks. Will volunteers still turn out or will they feel dissed by the city and stay away? Mayor Voxland says he has no doubt volunteers will turn out when they are needed.