Have Cedar Rapids sandbag questions? Here are some answers

Residential pickup completed, officials say no fines planned for businesses

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CEDAR RAPIDS — While the 2016 flood a month ago may seem like a distant memory, a handful of large and small sandbag piles remain scattered around the city.

Some 500 sandbags had been piled outside the Witwer Building, home of White Star Ale House, 303 Second Ave. SE, since shortly after the Cedar River receded from a crest of just below 22 feet on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

“We heard the city was removing sandbags, so we left them on the side of the street, but then we learned it was just for residential,” said Chengjie Huang, owner of the Witwer Building. “A little confusion, but not a problem.”

Huang said he received a call from a contractor friend saying he’d heard sandbags had to be removed by the end of the week. The mandate proved to be inaccurate, but Huang went ahead and paid $200 to have the bags hauled away on Wednesday.

Charles Jones, who owns the Sokol Gym Building, 415 Third St. SE, which is due to open a new Backpocket Brewery location late next month, said he received a phone call from Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz about the sandbags on Tuesday.

“He just said, ‘Hey, make sure you guys remove the sandbags,’” Jones said. “As soon as they let us know what the deal was, we removed it. We had a lot going on, and it just wasn’t a super high priority.”

By Wednesday morning, the bags were gone from in front of the property.

City officials say they have received a number of questions about the sandbag process, so below is what you need to know.

Q: Has the city’s contractor finished picking up all of the residential sandbags?

A: Yes. The contractor, Quality Construction Services Inc., started on Wednesday, Oct. 12, and finished on Wednesday, Oct. 19. The contractor collected 5,178 tons of sand, said Mark Jones, solid waste and recycling superintendent. The total cost of $205,835 is about half the estimate of $420,000.

Q: What if you are a resident who didn’t get your bags out to the curb in time?

A: People who missed sandbag collection and want city assistance must call (319) 286-5897 for details, Jones said.

Q: Is the city offering any kind of pickup service for businesses?

A: Sandbag disposal for businesses is being handled by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. The last two drop off sites available for businesses — the former Sixth Street Alliant Energy power plant and in Kingston Village under Interstate 380 near Second and Third Avenues SW — closed Wednesday. City officials said the Economic Alliance plans to reach out to business owners “in the next week to discuss options for removal.”

Doug Neumann, interim president of the Economic Alliance said perhaps six businesses still have a pile of sandbags to be hauled. The businesses are ultimately responsible for removing the sand, but availability of haulers appears to have loosened up after a post-flood frenzy and some developers are in the market for sand as fill material, he added.

An Economic Alliance news release noted businesses can call (319) 398-5317 for questions or assistance in sandbag removal.

Q: There has been some mention there may be fines for businesses that don’t dispose of sandbags in a timely manner? Is that true?

A: No. Sandbags left on streets and sidewalks could be considered a violation of the city’s nuisance ordinance, but city officials have said they don’t plan to enforce fines. City officials and Neumann corrected reports the city may begin issuing fines if sandbags aren’t removed from outside businesses this week.

“While the city and the Economic Alliance would like sandbags removed from businesses in the evacuation area as soon as possible, the city of Cedar Rapids has no intent of imposing fines or any penalties on business owners,” an Economic Alliance news release states.

Q: How many sandbags do city officials believe are still out there?

A” An estimated 25 to 30 homes and several alleys still have sandbags sitting out, Jones said. It’s difficult to get an accurate count because many homes still have sandbags stacked against foundations, he said. Jones estimates 3,000 to 5,000 tons are sitting in sandbags in large piles at business drop off locations around town.

Q: Is someone from the city charged with keeping an eye on the sandbag situation and looking for solutions for those who may need help?

A: No, at least not yet. “For residential properties, the city will be serving this function, but specifics as to department responsibilities and logistics are still being considered,” city spokeswoman Maria Johnson said.

Q: How many sandbags do city officials think were involved in flood protection efforts?

A: 400,000

Q: We’ve heard some people may be saving their sandbags for use at a later time. How should they be stored and what are the potential pitfalls of doing this?

A: Sandbags need to be protected from elements, out of the sun, rain, and snow. They should be inside and off the ground if possible, such as stacked on skids, Jones said. “They will deteriorate,” he added. “If you are planning to hang onto them for a year, they will not make it outside in the backyard.”

Q: Where is all the sand going?

A: Residential sand has been dropped off at Wendling Quarries in Robins. Jones said that sand is not being landfilled. An estimated 20,000 tons of loose sand from the HESCO barriers is being stockpiled at the Cedar Rapids Linn County Solid Waste Agency landfill near Mount Trashmore and a site on A Street SW.

Jones estimates the size of the A Street SW pile in terms of dump trucks — about 15 to 20 dump trucks long, two dump trucks tall, and 2.5 dump trucks wide.

The Economic Alliance has a contract to have the sand from businesses hauled away, and that sand is destined to be reused as fill material by developers, Neumann said.

Q: Is the city stockpiling any sand for future use?

A: Sand saved from the HESCOs is to be used for a variety of purposes, including snow fighting efforts, such as adding traction on roads, said Emily Muhlbach, a spokeswoman for the city’s public works division. It could also serve as backfill material on sewer projects, and some may be used in future flood fighting efforts, she said.

“It depends on the weather we get this winter,” Muhlbach said of how long it is going to take to get through the mound of sand. “In a typical winter, we use about 10,000 tons of sand — so we anticipate getting a few winters out of this.”

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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