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Bethel Mailbox Damage Replacement Policy; Get Your Ruler Ready

Report by Paula Antolini, February 13, 2019, 7:58AM EDT

It’s that time of year again when mailboxes are damaged while snow plows are clearing the road.

According to Douglas Arndt, Director of the Bethel Public Works department, whom Bethel Advocate spoke to today, approximately “50 to 100” mailboxes are damaged each winter due to plow-related incidents. 

The Bethel “Mailbox Replacement Policy” states, “It is very uncommon that a mailbox is directly contacted with snow removal equipment. The average number of mailboxes that receive direct contact from snow removal equipment during a snow storm is less than one percent.” 

According to census.gov for 2013 to 2017, there are 7,113 households in Bethel (we will use that for figures) so 1% is about 71 mailboxes that get damaged allegedly by plows each winter via “direct contact” (hit by plow truck) in Bethel.

“Non-contact mailbox knockdowns may average more then one hundred or more per snow storm,” reads the Bethel replacement policy. So that’s about 1.4% of the Bethel household mailboxes damaged by “non-contact” plow incidents (or 100 mailboxes). 

So all in all we are talking about approximately 171 resident mailboxes, on average, that are damaged each winter according to the Bethel policy statements. Whether the residents have “installed the mailbox properly” or not, they still could be responsible for repairs it seems.

Arndt admits that the mixture of ice and snow hitting a mailbox can possibly be a reason for the damage, but that the department is “responsible for public safety” so plows must travel at a particular speed to be able to plow, all while trying to establish as low a speed as possible to accomplish the task of keeping roads clear, he said.  

We had only a few inches of snow this past storm, how fast must a plow truck be traveling to have enough momentum to completely sheer off a mailbox and post, and break it into several pieces for example, via “non-contact”?

Arndt also mentioned the parameters of the “Mailbox Replacement Policy” (that we have posted below) which includes particular measurements that a resident has to follow when installing a mailbox.

However, Bethel Advocate talked to Arndt about the possibility of a resident following those exact measurement directions and still having their mailbox greatly damaged. Whose fault is it then? The Bethel Department of Public Works replacement policy states that, “The majority of mailbox and post damage is the result of improper installation or maintenance. A properly installed and maintained mailbox will withstand the snow removal operations that occur during the winter months.” So according to this policy statement, no damage should occur if you installed your mailbox properly? 

A drive around Bethel presently will clearly show numerous mailboxes damaged allegedly by a snow plow truck, whether it was hit directly or damaged from ice and snow coming at the mailbox at high rate of speed. Arndt indicated the resident is at fault even if the mailbox was installed properly, unless a determination can be made that the plow truck actually came in contact with the mailbox or post.  Is it acceptable for the town to not be responsible for damage to property (mailboxes) when debris is hurled a certain number of feet at resident property at possibly an unreasonably high rate of speed by town trucks?

Arndt cited low staff as a reason mailboxes cannot be repaired by the town in a timely fashion should it be determined that the town is at fault. He suggests temporarily setting up your mailbox so you can still receive mail (otherwise mail carriers are not required to deliver your mail). 

The Bethel policy states, “The Public Works Department will assist elderly or impaired property owners with repairing damage to their mailbox or post” but there is no procedure in place to submit a request for this other than calling the Bethel Public Works department.

Is it possible for the town to appoint an office worker, such as the employees answering the phones today in Public Works, or other workers in the municipal building whose departments are not as affected by storm damage, to handle damage reports in a speedier fashion? Could this be accomplished by having residents email photos of the damage to begin the process, thereby leaving Public Works employees free to do their jobs of insuring the roads are safe?  There could be a better solution than to have property repeatedly damaged in these numbers each year, and have workers have to personally visit approximately 171 properties to inspect damage (unless the damage is questionable).  

The Bethel replacement policy does not state exactly what the procedure should be if a resident needs an “inspection” of the mailbox by the town, if they want to submit a damage complaint and move the process forward. Arnst said there is a main number for the Bethel Department of Public Works that they can contact, click here for more information.  

A policy also does not presently exist for town workers to inspect your mailbox upon first installation to make sure it is installed properly (to avoid a resident being deemed “at fault” should damage occur in the winter) nor does a policy or procedure exist for public works employees, or U.S. postal workers for that matter, to indicate a mailbox might be too far into the road for example, when town employees in trucks or mail carriers travel roads during other seasons. 

There are also no notification reminders pre-winter-season to residents if their mailbox is found to be incorrectly installed. Perhaps this is because even IF you installed it correctly you are still responsible for repairs caused by flying ice and snow as long as the plow did not hit the mailbox.

Everything (damage reports) must be done by phone calls and then your name is “put on a list” as was mentioned by “Kathy” and also “Brittany” in the Public Works office today, which then leads to an inspection when they can inspect all damage at a future date, and then decide who is at fault.  Is this an antiquated method?

The Public Works department does a great job at keeping our town safe but is this mailbox issue a bit one-sided? Does it need review?  There could be a better solution.  Residents pay enormous taxes, should the town foot the bill and make repairs or replacement if they damaged mailboxes, however they were damaged, by truck or flying debris?

If you have any solutions please contact betheladvocate@aol.com and tell us your ideas. 

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In the event your mailbox is damaged, there is a “Mailbox Replacement Policy” issued by the Bethel Department of Public Works that needs to be reviewed so residents know what constitutes damage and fault, and the process you should follow to determine who isn responsible for repairs or replacement. View policy below….

Mailbox Replacement Policy

It shall be the policy of the Bethel Department of Public Works that if any mailbox or post, is damaged as the result of snow removal operations, the responsibility for making repairs shall be borne by the property owner. The Department of Public Works will not be responsible for mailbox damage from snow being discharged from snow removal equipment.

When a mailbox or post is damaged by direct contact from our snow removal equipment, the following will occur.

  1. Inspection of mailbox and post to determine cause of damage.
  2. Inspector will determine who is at fault (improper installation of mailbox, or plow operator error).
  3. Following investigation, the mailbox or post will be repaired or replaced if the plow operator is at fault.

Decorator mailboxes and posts that receive direct contact from snow removal equipment will be replaced with a standard mailbox and post.

*The majority of mailbox and post damage is the result of improper installation or maintenance. A properly installed and maintained mailbox will withstand the snow removal operations that occur during the winter months.

*It is very uncommon that a mailbox is directly contacted with snow removal equipment. The average number of mailboxes that receive direct contact from snow removal equipment during a snow storm is less than one percent. Non contact mailbox knockdowns may average more then one hundred or more per snow storm.

*The Public Works Department will assist elderly or impaired property owners with repairing damage to their mailbox or post.

Mailbox and Post Installation

Front of mailbox must be 12 inches minimum 18 inches maximum from curb line or edge of roadway.

Bottom of mailbox must be 40 to 44 inches above roadway elevation.

Post should be constructed of pressure treated wood, 4 inch by 4 inch minimum post size.

#8 minimum size screws that are weather resistant should be used during assembly of mailbox and post. (Do not use nails)

Proper installation and maintenance of your mailbox and post will help to prevent damage during snow removal operations.

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Editor’s note: This article has been revised on February 13, 2019, 7:46PM EDT, due to an error in reference to town population and not households for the damage figures. Our thanks to Julie Young for pointing out the error.