Pity the poor mailbox

During a snowy winter, mailboxes often become casualties of the effort to keep roads clear.
Snow covered mailbox along Rynex Corners Rd. in Pattersonville on Tuesday morning.
Snow covered mailbox along Rynex Corners Rd. in Pattersonville on Tuesday morning.

What to do

If your mailbox is damaged by a snow plow, many communities will repair or replace it free of charge.

• If you live on a town-owned road: Call the town’s highway department or department of public works.

• If you live on a county-owned road: Call the county’s highway department or department of public works.

• If you live on a state-owned road: Repairs are the responsibility of the homeowner.

After Rita Barnes’ mailbox was knocked down multiple times by snow plows, she took action.

Two years ago, the Glenville resident painted her mailbox and its post hot pink.

“Everybody laughed at me and said, ‘Why are you painting it like that?’ But now they see,” she said. “It’s worth it. It hasn’t been knocked down since.”

During a snowy winter, mailboxes often become casualties of the effort to keep roads clear.

Plows will likely take to the roads again Thursday, when 2 to 3 inches of snow are expected to fall. According to National Weather Service meteorologist Ingrid Amberger, accumulations aren’t going to melt anytime soon. Bitterly cold temperatures are forecast starting Thursday night and lasting through Monday.

Representatives from local highway departments said they do their best to avoid doing damage when plowing, but when it does occur, many communities replace or repair mailboxes free of charge.

Saratoga County’s Department of Public Works replaced about 150 mailboxes on county roads last winter. This season, the department has already replaced that many, and Keith Manz, commissioner of public works, is planning to order more.

“Last storm, I think we had 20-some-odd [damaged] on 360 miles of road,” he said.

Often, it’s not the impact of a plow blade that takes the mailbox out.

“It’s the slush and the snow impact that will either knock the box off the post or bend the box,” Manz explained.

When a mailbox is damaged during snow removal, a homeowner must determine if they live on a town, county or state road, and call the appropriate office, said Chris Koetzle, Glenville’s town supervisor.

Glenville repairs or replaces damaged mailboxes on town roads free of charge. In an average winter, the town replaces between 20 and 25 mailboxes, Koetzle said.

“The deeper the snow gets, the more problems we have, because the snowbanks are starting to envelop the mailboxes in a lot of neighborhoods,” Koetzle said, urging residents to shovel out around their boxes.

Certain mailboxes stand up better to harsh winter weather, he noted.

“In the newer developments, the developers often use a cheaper, white, plastic mailbox. When they get cold, they shatter very easily when the snow hits them. We’ve been having problems with those in particular,” he said.

When a mailbox is damaged in Glenville, crews replace it with a temporary one until a new one can be installed in spring. Although they try to match the original mailbox’s color, the town-provided mailboxes are standard issue. An effort is made to repair higher-end ones, but they are not replaced with a mailbox of equal value, Koetzle noted.

Those who live on state roads are required to repair or replace their own mailbox if it’s damaged by a plow, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani. Mailboxes are generally positioned in the state right-of-way, which extends 12 feet from the white line on each side of the road.

“Technically, we allow people to put their mailboxes in the right-of-way as a courtesy, but we have to be able to plow the roads, and that also includes plowing the shoulder, which is necessary for visibility purposes, breakdowns — if someone’s got a flat — and for pedestrians in areas where there aren’t sidewalks,” he said.

So far this winter, the town of Rotterdam has put out about 15 mailboxes set in concrete-filled, 5-gallon buckets for residents who live on town-owned roads and have had their mailbox damaged by a plow. In the spring, a crew will come back and complete a free, permanent fix, with a standard post and mailbox.

“If they just need the mailbox and the post is fine, we try to fix it right away,” noted Larry LaMora, Rotterdam’s highway superintendent.

If crews are unable to get out to fix a mailbox or provide a temporary solution right away, the U.S. Postal Service is tolerant of short-term creative alternatives, as long as they don’t pose a danger to mail carriers, pedestrians or postal customers, said Maureen Marion, USPS manager of corporate communications for the Northeastern United States.

She said the most interesting mailbox substitute she’s seen is a garden rake stuck into a snow bank, with a “mail bucket” hanging from its tines.

Those who have lost a mailbox to a plow can ask for a short-term mail hold and pick up mail at the post office until the mailbox is repaired or replaced, she said.

According to USPS guidelines, when a mailbox is replaced, it should be between 41 and 45 inches above ground level and six to eight inches back from the curb. In the absence of a curb, a local postmaster should be contacted for guidance.

About 30 mailboxes have been replaced so far this winter in Halfmoon, said John Pingelski, highway supervisor. Town workers repair damaged mailboxes, when possible, and replace those beyond repair with a standard wooden post and metal mailbox, free of charge.

In Clifton Park, about 50 mailboxes were replaced for free during the last two storms. Highway Supervisor Rick Kukuk’s crew replaces those beyond repair with a standard 4-by-4-inch, pressure-treated post and a black or white vinyl mailbox.

On average, the town replaces between 80 and 100 plow-damaged mailboxes a year. The damage must have been done by a town plow and not a private contractor, Kukuk noted.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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