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Snowplow removes more than snow from Highway 210

A mailbox sits off-kilter along Highway 210 Thursday, Feb. 21, past Hassies Saloon and Eatery in Brainerd. A string of mailboxes were struck by a Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Residents and businesses along a stretch of Highway 210 were greeted with an unpleasant surprise when they recently went to get their newspaper or check their roadside mailboxes.

A Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow damaged mailboxes and newspaper tubes while clearing snow from the state highway at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20.

"We were plowing snow, and the mailboxes got hit. ... We did replace three mailboxes on 210 between Hassies (Saloon and Eatery) and Deerwood," said J.P. Gillach, MnDOT District 3 public affairs coordinator. "That's all we're aware of. ... As far as we know, that's all there is out there. All the other ones looked good the last time that we looked at it."

Chris Dunmire of Hassies Saloon and Eatery on Highway 210 said Thursday the roadside establishment's mailbox was bent.

"It's the responsibility of the homeowner to have a well-maintained mailbox," Gillach said. "If you put a mailbox up on our right of way ... it's supposed to be built to a certain specification and so it has to have a certain post on it."

The state highway department will replace all lawful mailbox supports—those that swing away when hit—damaged by a direct hit from snowplowing operations, provided the support was properly installed according to U.S. Postal Service standards.

"It's a swing-away post specifically designed for Minnesota winters—made to take the force of snow basically," Gillach said. "Luckily, we have very, very, very few problems with those things."

An eyewitness driving behind the MnDOT snowplow saw the damage to newspaper tubes and mailboxes in the plow's wake, which sent mail flying into the snow in some cases and all without course correction. The motorist reported mailboxes were pushed aside and no longer faced the highway along a stretch from Highway 210 onto the Deerwood shortcut toward the city of Deerwood, a stretch of about 13 miles.

"We did go out there, and inspect and replaced them," Gillach said without elaborating. "I mean we're plowing snow."

Snowplows have wing plows on the left or right side of the truck and can extend from 2 to 10 feet beyond the width of the truck.

"We do an investigation when we hear about them, so we go out and inspect it to make sure what's being claimed happened, happened, and if we determine that we hit the mailbox, we replace it," Gillach said of snowplow damage.

For newspaper subscribers, if their delivery tube has been hit, they are asked to call the circulation department directly at 218-855-5810 and staff will work to find an alternate solution to get the paper delivered or a new tube installed as soon as possible, if that is an option before the spring thaw.

On the Postal Service website, the question of snowplow impacts to mailboxes is question No. 4 of seven frequently asked questions.

"Each city or town has their own set of procedures for handling a replacement of a mailbox in these conditions. We refer our customers back to their own communities for what to do in those instances," the U.S. Postal Service reported. "We cannot provide curbside service to a residence without a mail receptacle. In some cases, we do see short-term creative placements of mailboxes or residents will ask us to hold the mail for a short period until the replacement of the box. But we do need that box to make a delivery on a regular basis."

Officials at the U.S. Post Office in Brainerd declined to comment, referring the question to an individual who was able to speak on the matter but who could not be reached Friday.

Snowplow facts

• MnDOT plows 30,585 miles of state highways and interstates in Minnesota. One mile of a four-lane road equals 4 lane miles. The Twin Cities metro area has 4,087 lane miles maintained by MnDOT.

• MnDOT has more than 1,800 full-time and part-time snowplow drivers. MnDOT also provides extensive two-week training for new operators each year at Camp Ripley and annual refresher training for veteran plow drivers.

• MnDOT has 840 snowplows, including reserve trucks that provide backup if a snowplow needs maintenance or is damaged.

• A single-axle plow (one set of wheels in the back) can weigh up to 50,000 pounds when loaded. A new single-axle truck costs $170,000.

• A tandem-axle plow (two sets of wheels in the back) can weigh more than 70,000 pounds when loaded. A new tandem truck costs $210,000.