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Utah company says its 'walls' are better than sandbags

Published: Friday, Sept. 20 2013 9:13 p.m. MDT

A Muscle Wall is deployed during flooding in Alpine in early September 2013. Muscle Wall, built by a Logan-based company, is a mobile retaining wall consisting of plastic blocks filled with water and covered with a liner. The blocks are linked together to form a wall either 2 or 4 feet tall.

Steve Landeen

ALPINE — A Utah company is manufacturing a product that could help homeowners and communities devastated by recent flooding, especially if they're preparing for more floods.

Muscle Wall is a mobile retaining wall consisting of plastic blocks filled with water and covered with a liner. The blocks are linked together to form a wall either 2 or 4 feet tall.

The wall was deployed in Alpine earlier this month, when several mountainside neighborhoods were ravaged by debris flows and flooding twice in the past month after torrential rainfall.

A river of mud and soot from a burn scar, caused by a massive wildfire in 2012, roared through neighborhoods. As a result, one homeowner bought a Muscle Wall to divert any more debris flows that might breach the banks of a ditch behind his home.

"These storms seem to be coming more frequently," said Jeron Taylor, the inventor of Logan-based Muscle Wall. "You've really got to be proactive. You've got to get ahead of the game."

"Your flooding comes in, you protect whatever you're trying to protect, and you move it out," said George Deussen, a Muscle Wall employee.

Taylor said in most circumstances, a crew of four people can build a 4-foot-tall Muscle Wall, 260 feet long, similar to the one in Alpine, in about an hour. Sandbagging a wall that size would certainly take more than a day, and sandbags are not reusable.

"This is 6 feet long," Taylor said, pointing to a block in the wall. "If you were to do a sandbag wall this tall, it would take 468 sandbags. This takes just minutes to put up. Then it's reusable."

Because it is easy to deploy, Taylor said, communities are more apt to be proactive with a Muscle Wall option.

"If there's a threat of a storm, go ahead and set it up," he said. "If it doesn't hit, great it didn't hit."

The majority of the company's clients are municipalities looking for long-term flood protection.

Sandy used Muscle Wall in 2011 during high spring runoff. Murray used the temporary barrier that same spring to surround an entire office building. But most of Muscle Wall's client cities are on the coasts.

Deussen traveled to flood-ravaged portions of Colorado last week and helped deploy a small section of Muscle Wall.

"When Taylor first saw that flooding on television, he said one thought popped into his head — 'They need our product,'" Deussen said.

"You're talking about efficiency. You're literally talking about whether a building is going to be saved or not," he said.

Muscle Wall costs more upfront than sand and bags. However, Taylor and Deussen argued, there are a lot of hidden costs to sandbagging, including transportation costs and the loss of valuable time.

Taylor also noted that sandbags take many volunteers to deploy.

"There's a little bit of manpower (needed to deploy the Muscle Wall), primarily small equipment to move the product around," Deussen said.

Taylor also said that when the flood risk passes, the breakdown of the wall is simple.

"You take the water out, and stack them back up and you're good to go."

EMAIL: jboal@deseretnews.com

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