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Utah residents warned of 'black market' sandbags as flood concerns rise

Posted at 2:39 PM, Apr 11, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — With potential flooding on the horizon for much of Utah, it should come as no surprise that some people are looking to take advantage of others ahead of a possible crisis.

In just another sign of the times, the Salt Lake County Emergency Management Office has issued a warning to residents, alerting them of sellers on the pseudo-black market trying to sell free sandbags at a profit.

According to the office, there are people hoarding sandbags that have been distributed for free at various city and community locations, and then listing them online for a hefty price.

Despite limits in place on the number of sandbags allowed per vehicle, Chief Clint Mecham with the management office said flood control crews have seen people taking hundreds, if not thousands of bags from free sites.

A quick search for sandbags on Facebook Marketplace turns up dozens of listings, with many selling for up to $10 a bag. While some postings are from legitimate businesses, others are not.

"There's always laws at a state level, if not a local level, against price gouging and hoarding and that kind of stuff. So it's possible that law enforcement could get involved in this," said Mecham.

In Salt Lake County, residents are being asked to limit their sandbags to 25 per household per day.

Mecham said crews are putting out thousands of sandbags at sites, then learning an hour later that there's sand, but the bags have been taken.

"It puts a real cramp on the ability for people who might need the sandbags to go and fill their own and use them to protect their property," he said.

Along with the possibility of law enforcement getting involved to crack down on hoarders, Mecham said crews are now keeping an eye out for those who take more than the limit. But that leaves them unavailable to work on more important issues.

"The flood control people that are trying to maintain the stockpiles at these locations," Mecham explained, "putting them in a really difficult situation where they have to continually try and feed resources into these sites instead of being out on the creeks and maybe doing some of the mitigation and prevention measures that really need to be done on the, on the creeks.

"Again, it has a great impact on our ability to prepare and mitigate."

Volunteers began filling free sandbags at the Midvale Operations Public Works Yard in Salt Lake County last month, and cities across the state, including Salt Lake City, are already offering free sandbags to residents.

Mecham is asking those who would like to profit off a crisis to think of their neighbors first.

"That's our big ask of the public is, to make sure that you're taking what you need, but you're leaving enough for your neighbor as well," he said.

Utah's incredible snowpack this winter has caused worries about flooding when the snow eventually melts away. Residents in areas around rivers and creeks are being told to prepare should management efforts not fully contain the eventual runoff.

WATCH: How to properly fill, use sandbags in case of Utah flooding

On Monday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other city officials assured residents that a repeat of the flooding that occurred in 1983 won't happen this spring due to advancements in planning, infrastructure and different conditions that caused issues four decades ago.