A rural mailbox got a glancing blow from a snowplow after a snowstorm. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / BDN

Editors note: This story was originally published in March 2021.

There’s a lot to deal with during a Maine winter, from snow to bone-chilling temperatures to short days and beyond. But for some Mainers, the most frustrating part of a Maine winter can be defending their mailbox against snowplows.

Not long after it starts snowing in Maine, municipal snow plows are rumbling along major roads and side streets. Lowered blades push mounds of snow off to the sides, clearing the way for drivers. But sometimes mailboxes get caught in the efforts. Some folks have gotten pretty creative in coming up with ways to keep their mailboxes safe from a rogue plow blade but still accessible for the postal carriers.

A portable solution

When it snows in Waterboro, Melissa Brandt has a ready-made solution to prevent the snowplows from taking out her mailbox: making it portable.

“We attach [the mailbox] to a sawhorse and that lets us move it out of the way and then put it back out after a storm,” Brandt said. “This lets us get it out of the way to clear the driveway and still get our mail.”

For Brandt, it comes down to timing. When it snows the priority at her home is clearing the driveway to her home followed by shoveling out her kennel of sled dogs. That can take awhile. There were occasions when the mailbox at the end of the driveway would still be buried under the snow from a passing snowplow when the postal carrier arrived but with the sawhorses, it’s easy to make sure it’s accessible when it needs to be.

Grabbing the plow’s attention

Ever since this rural Maine mailbox was given a patriotic theme by its Vietnam veteran owner, it has been safe from snow plow damage. Credit: Courtesy of Allan Crisp

Far to the north in Wallagrass, Christiana Yule and her late husband Allan Crisp used to lose their mailbox for months in the winter.

“The plow driver on our road used to hit our box so hard every year that it got ripped off the pole and went flying,” Yule said. “We could never find it until the snow melted in the spring.”

So one winter, before the first snow, Yule said Crisp — a Vietnam combat veteran — pulled out his old army helmet and chained it to the back of the mailbox. Then he placed a small United States flag on its side.

“It hasn’t been hit since,” Yule said.

Accepting defeat

Years back, Sandi Rowe Umple of Brewer simply ran up a white flag after having to dig her mailbox — and its contents — out of the snowbank. For her, it’s easier and less aggravating to pick up her mail from a post office box than to replace mailboxes.

“We had too many letters and other valuables left lying out in the ditches out there,” Umple said. “Now we don’t deal with mailboxes or the cost of putting a new one up in the middle of the winter.”

Accidents do happen

The Maine Department of Transportation has plans available online for snow plow-proof mailboxes in Maine. But no plan is ever 100 percent perfect, and collisions between a plow blade and mailboxes do happen.

The good news is that homeowners aren’t always left to foot the bill of replacement. Some Maine towns including Bangor, Ellsworth, Saco, Lewiston and Eliot have adopted policies allowing homeowners to seek compensation when their mailboxes become collateral damage during snow plowing.

Bangor Public Works Director Aaron Huotari said his department has gotten three requests so far this winter from residents asking to have the city replace their plow-damaged mailboxes.

“Plows are big pieces of machinery and the drivers are trying to get as close to the curbs as possible without ripping those curbs up,” Huotari said. “Sometimes it can be hard to gauge the distance between the plow’s wing and the mailbox.”

But if a mailbox is placed the proper distance from the side of the road, Huotari said he takes full responsibility when a box is knocked over or damaged.

“That’s under our control,” he said. “We are responsible if those get hit.”

Ellsworth also has a mailbox replacement policy and Lisa Sekulich, public works director, said her department receives five to 10 requests a year from residents for the $50 vouchers to replace a plow-damaged mailbox.

Beyond placing the mailbox far enough from the side of the road to avoid the plows, Sekulich said homeowners can also paint their boxes bright colors or install reflectors to increase their visibility.

There may never be a perfect solution, but Huotari wants people to know the drivers are doing the best they can.

“It’s Maine and it’s a fact of life there will be snow and there will be snowplows passing by,” he said. “Our drivers are not going out there with the worst intentions of hitting your mailbox.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.