Something Ed said on the radio Tuesday has apparently ticked-off a few people in his home state, but Ed's standing by his statement and we think you'll understand why (and possibly agree) by the end of this blog. Let's start with Ed's comments:
"Broadcasting from the city that has no bones about asking eighth-graders to come down to the facility and start making sandbags so the wealthy people don't have to pay for a dike. Good ol' Fargo, North Dakota. That's how they flood fight. It's called slave labor. Make 'em think they're really building character. In fact, they have to build character every spring. The college kids, I think, have figured it out. Screw you! So now they're picking on the eighth-graders."
The local paper reported city and school leaders "bristled" at Ed's choice of words.
But the Mayor and the community leaders don't disagree with the facts: Every spring, Fargo opens up "Sandbag Central" and relies on volunteers to fill millions of sandbags to fight back the Red River. They’re close to meeting their goal and could finish up Friday.
Good-hearted and hard-working people do this back-breaking work for free to protect the flood prone areas. The National Guard pitches in and local college students help too, but more and more of the volunteers are 8th graders.
In response to Ed's comments, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said, "All the kids have permission slips from their parents. They're fed extremely well."
Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz said sandbagging is "a good way for them [the kids] to get involved in their community."
They're right, but they're missing the point.
The parents do sign permission forms and waivers of liability so if the kids get hurt (and National Guard medics describe workers getting hurt as “sandbagitis”) , Fargo doesn't get sued.
The kids do eat good meals donated by local restaurants and city workers as well as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
Volunteering is great, but North Dakota is letting 13- and 14-year-olds work for free so the state can save money on permanent flood prevention.
The state is sitting on a $1.6 billion surplus and it won't pony up the money to build permanent flood diversion to protect its biggest cities.
Instead, the state encourages 13 and 14 year olds to fill sandbags for free, knowing the kids fear their own neighborhoods could get flooded this year.
NOAA forecasters say there's a 50% chance the Red River could swell to 100-year-flood levels again this spring.
Flooding in 1997 and 2009 cost hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money.
State House Republican Leader Al Carlson recently said he won't let North Dakota spend a dime on flood prevention until he's sure the federal government will pick up the bulk of the bill.
Unfortunately, the president's latest budget proposal doesn't include any funding to solve North Dakota's yearly flooding problem, because the state can afford the project itself.
Cass County has raised taxes to help fund a flood diversion project, but the state with a $1.6 billion surplus can’t be bothered to spend its fair share.
So the county's doing its part, the Red Cross is doing its part, the federal government is still paying for the past floods and North Dakota Republicans are letting 13 and 14 year olds work for free to protect their biggest cities.
North Dakota Republicans should consider letting these same teens shovel the streets and highways in winter too.
Flood prevention should not be the responsibility of good-hearted, hard-working children. There are plenty of other volunteer options available in these cities. Flood prevention is the responsibility of the government. When will they get to work?