Answer Man

Here’s what will happen to all those sandbags once flood waters recede

Flooding closes Great River Road, rain continues

Workers late Wednesday morning closed the Great River Road north of Alton, IL. Sandbags surrounded Ardent Mills on the flooding banks of the Mississippi River. The red line on the grain mill indicates the high water mark from the Flood of '93.
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Workers late Wednesday morning closed the Great River Road north of Alton, IL. Sandbags surrounded Ardent Mills on the flooding banks of the Mississippi River. The red line on the grain mill indicates the high water mark from the Flood of '93.

Q: What will happen to all those sandbags once the water recedes?

Pat Packard, of Edwardsville

A: As you probably can imagine, dealing with 13 million sandbags containing thousands of tons of sand is no day at the beach.

First, you have to find people to dismantle the protective walls that had been laboriously assembled just days before. Then there’s the matter of dealing with the bags and sand, much of which may have become contaminated by filthy river water. Yet that was the Herculean task they faced in 2008 in this area alone — and will be facing again as soon as the current flooding subsides.

The immediate response often is, “Well, why don’t they just store them for next time?” That’s impossible for at least two reasons. First, there’s the sheer logistics of finding the manpower, trucks and storage facilities to keep all of those bags until some unpredictable date perhaps years in the future. In 2011 in Fargo, N.D., it took 50 trucks just to haul away 15 million EMPTY sandbags that went unused, WCCO-TV in Minneapolis reported.

Complicating matters, the bags usually are made of a polypropylene material that degrades in the sun. So even if you decide to store them, they’d have a good chance of ripping apart in the removal process. Besides, you wouldn’t want any smelly, filthy bags sitting around for months or years in your warehouse, would you?

So here is what has happened in the past, according to officials in Missouri and Minnesota. Often a front-end loader is driven through and over the piles to break the bags, the remnants of which are removed, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. The sand is hauled off and used for making concrete or spreading on icy roads in the winter.

In Minnesota and Iowa, officials said that sand untouched by the river water might be used for fill for sidewalks or playgrounds. Otherwise it winds up as fill material under roads or placed in a lined landfill. They’re relatively primitive, but some say sandbags have been useful since at least the Revolutionary War, when burlap sacks filled with sand were used to build makeshift forts.

Today’s trivia

What was the original name of the presidential retreat now known as Camp David?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: Although they didn’t serve together, Civil War foes Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis wound up as comrades during the five-month Black Hawk War in 1832. In his brief military service, the 23-year-old Lincoln was elected captain of his company. After hostilities ended, Davis, then 24, was assigned to escort Chief Black Hawk to prison.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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