When the City of Centralia came into millions of federal American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) funds, local officials repeatedly warned these dollars are a one-and-done deal — they should be spent on sustainable projects.
While the council continues to suss out where to put the bulk of those dollars, one check for $42,000 was spent by Monday morning.
As Centralia Public Works staff sported safety vests and muddy boots at their shop on Reynolds Avenue, a new sandbag machine arrived.
The trailer-carried machines are created by The Bag Lady INC, an erosion control company based in Puyallup. Co-Owner Morris Malone told The Chronicle they’ve sold around 400 sandbag machines worldwide since 1996, and all are still in service.
Sustainable without future funds? Check.
Titled the “Megga Bagger,” the silver piece of gear can churn out around 1,600 sandbags in an hour if operated by a crew of seven people or more, Malone said. For flood prone Centralia and all its Lewis County neighbors that stand to benefit from the purchase, Public Works Director Kim Ashmore called it “a game changer.”
Affected year-after-year by flooding from China Creek, the Chehalis River and Skookumchuck River, Ashmore said the machine will make a “huge” difference for Centralia. Recalling the most recent flood event in January of this year, he noted it took hundreds of people shoveling sandbags to produce what the machine could in a day. Malone said on average, someone really “grinding” can fill 30 sandbags in an hour, and that might only be enough for one house.
Centralia will always be his first priority, Ashmore said, but the machine can be easily relocated to other cities. He intends to hold trainings with Lewis County and Chehalis public works on it soon. Ideally, the machine could fill sheds with sandbags in the off-season, he said, allowing for pallets of the equipment to be transported via truck across the area before a predicted flood event.
While not totally impermeable, sandbags are used to stop flow and divert flood waters elsewhere, preventing them from entering garages and other openings of a person’s home, Malone said. To be used effectively, bags should be stacked end-to-end as tightly as possible, to the high water mark.
The machine promises to ease the load on citizens and city staff alike ahead of potential disaster. And as the area enters the flood season, Ashmore called the machine “a good spend.” As his team trained on the new device, he called in pizza for lunch to celebrate.