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Everything you wanted to know about Mailboxes & Snowplows
Posted on Nov 21, 2015
Depending on the season’s snowfalls — Madison’s first of this winter arrived Friday night into Saturday morning — municipal and county plows can clip dozens of mailboxes in Dane County each year. Dane County does not keep track of such claims, but Eric Veum, risk manager for Madison, said the city paid for 21 mailboxes in 2015 (so far), 16 in 2014 and 56 in 2013. That doesn’t include mailboxes damaged by plows contracted by the city to clear streets. They are required to have their own insurance.
In Madison, if it were truly the plow that damaged the mailbox, and not the force of the snow being plowed, the city would either replace, repair or pay for replacing the mailbox, according to Stephen Schultz of the Madison Streets Division.
But that is only if the mailbox was properly located to begin with: 41 to 45 inches off street level and set back 6 to 8 inches from the curb.
While some residents may believe their mailboxes are ignored — and thus, snapped into pieces — by indifferent snowplow drivers, the reality is drivers are “pretty much always aware of where that plow blade is in relation to the curb,” Schultz said.
In Madison, that recognition has resulted in a plow specially designed to lessen the chance of hitting a mailbox. The plows, which come from Monroe Truck Equipment, have what is called a “mailbox trim” in the corner of the blade. “That plow corner has a 45-degree angle instead of 90 degrees at the top, so it goes under the mailbox,” said Randy Ziegler, Madison Streets Division’s East Side maintenance coordinator. Ziegler gets to check out Madison residents’ complaints about plows wrecking mailboxes, taking along a metal gauge and a large dose of mechanical sense.
“Sometimes the problem is the (resident) has left the flap down on the mailbox, and the passing plow will strike that,” said Ziegler.
Perhaps the most misunderstood mailbox replacement regulation is that it is not the city’s fault if snow pushed by a plow breaks or pushes over a mailbox.
“That’s especially a problem in some new subdivisions where the mailboxes are not put in correctly, too low and too close to the street,” he said.
A knocked-over mailbox may be caused by the way the mailbox is mounted to what might be an insufficient post, said Ziegler. Some fancier mailbox posts are no more than hollow plastic shells slipped over a small stump of a 4-by-4 post that doesn’t fill the whole shell.
“There is nothing in the middle. It doesn’t take much to push that over and then it is broken,” he said. He advised a homeowner to “give the mailbox a shake.”
Madison’s mailbox replacement policy is that if it is the city’s fault, the homeowner gets $75 to repair or replace it. That sometimes doesn’t cover the cost, he said, because in some neighborhoods a certain type of mailbox may be required. And the fix may be temporary — a mailbox on a post anchored in a bucket of cement.
“The homeowner is worried about not getting the mail,” Ziegler said. “If we can make it easier to do that in January when it’s 20 below, then we’re good.”
Dane County will repair or replace a mailbox only if “it has been determined by the (highway department) that physical damage was caused by actual contact with county equipment and that the existing installation was stable and the mailbox and post were in good condition.”
The people who deliver the mail have the same mailbox guidelines as the city, and they check for compliance, too, according to Bob Sheehan, U.S. Postal Service customer relations coordinator in Madison. If the box does not fit USPS regulations, no mail will be delivered to it.
Sheehan advises homeowners try to clear snow and park vehicles to allow carriers to drive by and not have to leave the truck to deliver the mail. “Give them 15 feet before and after so the truck can get in and out.”
“If you have your mailbox on a post and it is going to be in a spot where there is lots of snow, we encourage people to have an extended arm on it that sets the post back from curb but still projects the box out towards the street, set back about 6 to 8 inches,” he said.