City considers minimizing sandbag distribution

The city council discussed Monday whether the city should minimize its role in the distribution of sandbags during times of flooding.

“What we’re suggesting is that the city get out of being a middle man in providing sandbags to the general public,” said Terry Gray, Parks and Recreation director. “That’s what we’ve been is a middle man.”

Gray said the effort has become problematic during flooding as it puts stress on staff to make sure the sandbags are accessible, getting them to people and keeping track of who they have to bill.

“We’ve given many away and have not received compensation,” Gray said. “Part of our policy said we will give a certain number away free before we started charging. Now IOWA DOT got several thousand sandbags from us, well, who is going to replace those sandbags?”

Gray said there is no budget for purchasing sandbags.

“It all kind of got mushed together as part of a policy that no one really understood well,” Gray said.

Gray said the city has 1,000 filled sandbags and 25,000 unfilled sandbags to use in times of emergency. The current policy states the city needs 80-100,000 sandbags.

Gray said she and Kim Elder, Emergency Management coordinator for Marshall County, have been doing research on sandbag usage in other parts of Iowa and found it isn’t common for cities and counties to provide sandbags, she said.

Gray said Homeland Security will provide governmental agencies with sandbags only to protect public facilities.

“We couldn’t sell those sandbags, we couldn’t give them to anyone else to use they would be for our use to protect the city,” Gray said. “We think the city should take care of the city and its public places and our resources and have businesses, and other government agencies and private citizens find their sandbags.”

Gray said there is a flood management plan committee that meets annually and consists of the city administrator, fire, police, water pollution control and sewer members.

“It’s something that doesn’t happen every year and it’s one of those things that when you don’t exercise it all the time you kind of forget what you were doing and how you’ll do it,” Gray said. “We need to talk about how we are going to do it better.”

She said addressing the issue early allows time to communicate before another flooding event.

Gray said she saw sandbags available at Menards and she hasn’t asked anywhere else yet. She said she would inform retailers the city no longer would provide sandbags to business and homeowners.

“That would be something for them to consider keeping in their inventory,” Gray said.

The council made no decision about the sandbags.

“This makes some good discussion for the next week,” Mayor Tommy Thompson said.