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When snow plows plow more than snow

By Izaskun E. Larraņeta

Publication: The Day

Published February 20. 2014 4:00AM   Updated February 20. 2014 3:49PM
Tim Cook/The Day
One of winter's casualties: A mailbox on Meetinghouse Lane in Old Lyme sits toppled over in the plowed snow surrounding it.

Sometimes snow plows move snow and sometimes they move mailboxes, making them collateral damage of the storm cleanup.

Most cities and towns will cover all or part of the cost to repair or replace the mailbox if a municipal plow hits it. The gray area is when the snow is pushed up against the mailbox, and that causes the damage.

Some towns, like East Lyme, will not cover damage caused by snow that is thrown by the plow, while others, like Norwich, will consider it on a case-by-case basis.

Joe Bragaw, director of East Lyme's public works department, said it's the town's policy to assess each situation. So far, the town has received about 30 complaints, of which about 25 percent resulted in the town replacing the mailbox with a standard post and box.

"The snow, especially this winter, has been really wet and slushy, so the weight of the slush hitting the mailbox can actually knock it down," Bragaw said. "That's why it's important to make sure that the mailbox is secured really well and that it's not on a rotted post. It's the responsibility of the homeowner to make sure that it is secure."

The town's mailbox damage policy can be found on its website, www.eltownhall.com.

Angelo Yeitz, superintendent of streets and parks in Norwich, said the city has received about seven or eight complaints about knocked-down mailboxes this winter. He said it's the department's policy to investigate each complaint. "If the plow hits it, no question we will replace it, but if your post is old and rotted, then it was the snow who did it and not our responsibility," Yeitz said.

Yeitz said sometimes the heavy force of the plow pushing the snow can damage a mailbox, and in those circumstances, the city will also replace the mailbox. A standard wooden post and mailbox is purchased at a local hardware store.

"We try our best to match the mailbox, but there is a limit. If it's a really expensive mailbox, we just can't do it," Yeitz said.

If the mailbox is completely taken out, officials with the U.S. Postal Service said, it's important to notify the post office right away so there won't be a disruption in service.

Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said mailboxes damaged by DOT plow trucks during operations on state roads will be replaced with a stock post and mailbox for free.

"Surprisingly, with all the snow we've had, I think we have had fewer requests for mailboxes this season versus last," Nursick said. "I've only seen a couple dozen come in so far, and that's a low number considering how many roads we are responsible for."

Nursick said the majority of damaged mailboxes occur not from the plow striking the mailbox, but rather, from the snow coming off the blade, striking the post and mailbox.

The public can report a damaged or broken mailbox to the DOT via its website at www.ct.gov/dot. Click on "contact us" and then use the electronic form to report the damage. Select the topic "snow removal" from the drop-down list.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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