Mailboxes, utility boxes a casualty of snowy weather

Date Published: 
April 4, 2014

Coastal Point • Maria Counts: A utility box on Omar Road was reportedly knocked down by a snowplow during a recent heavy snowstorm in the area. Coastal Point • Maria Counts: A utility box on Omar Road was reportedly knocked down by a snowplow during a recent heavy snowstorm in the area. This winter, the coastal area has been hit with numerous snowstorms and, as a result, many mailboxes have suffered damage from plowing. But some residents on Omar Road say this is the first year in many that they’ve dealt with such extensive damage.

“We’ve lived on Omar Road for 19 years,” said Alex Pszczola. “This has been the first year we’ve had any issues with the mailboxes… There are mailboxes down the street that are completely demolished.”

“In 30 years, we’ve never had this experience, but we did in this snowfall, and the one before it,” added Hal Barber.

Along Omar Road, 25 mailboxes have obvious damage, as well as about 10 green utility boxes that have also been damaged.

“The box is completely knocked down,” described Barber. “The green box is completely on its side, with the front destroyed. Other boxes, they’ve whipped out the whole support, plus the box. You won’t believe it.”

Delaware Department of Transportation Community Relations Officer Jim Westhoff said that the damage is an unfortunate byproduct of a heavy winter season.

“Unfortunately, when we plow snow, broken mailboxes are an unfortunate byproduct of what we do. We do everything we can do to minimize any property damage, but sometimes it happens.”

Westhoff added that, typically, the mailboxes are not struck by the plows themselves but are damaged by the heavy snow as the plows throw it aside.

“What happens is the snow is thrown from the plow at such a velocity and volume that, when it hits mailboxes, it will knock them over. This last snowfall, for example, the back roads in Sussex didn’t get any plowing all day. Then, by the time they got there, the snow had started to melt, and a lot of roads got 6 to 7 inches of heavy snow. When the plow goes by, that’s a lot of heavy snow hitting the mailboxes.”

But Pszczola, whose mailbox is staked behind a metal guardrail, thinks the damage is caused by the drivers plowing too far into the road’s shoulder.

“This is the first year I’ve had that guardrail,” he noted. “In the past I never had a guard rail. So you would think it would be even better off,” he said.

“I noticed this year — this is the first year for us having the road to be repaved, with the sides paved. When they’re plowing, they’re doing the sides, and it’s so smooth and clear, they’re just flying down. In the past, it was a stone side, and it would never happen. This is the first year they’re doing the shoulders on Omar Road.”

The residents aren’t only concerned about the damage caused to their property, but also the United States Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail when boxes are damaged or destroyed.

“This has a ramification in the post office. The people coming out of Roxana can’t deliver the mail, because there’s no mailbox,” said Barber.

“We deal with it every winter. The more storms, naturally, we’ll have more boxes down,” said Postmaster John Douds Sr. “I’ve been surprised — it’s been less than I would’ve thought will all the storms we’ve had. We’ve had calls and have had plenty of people whose boxes have been down. But I just expected so much more with the number of storms we had.”

Dowds said the Postal Service deals with the issue regularly and will work with the customer on how best to get them their mail until a box can be repaired or replaced.

“Generally, they’ve usually contacted us before we come out to deliver,” he said. “It really depends on the customer. Some of them want us to hold it, and they’ll come in and pick it up… It just depends. Most people are really good about getting their box back up really quickly.”

Dowds added that postal workers will not deliver mail to a mailbox if it is in a condition that they would consider insecure.

“If it’s lying on the ground, if the top of it is ripped off,” he offered as examples.

Pszczola said that the damage has not interfered with his ability to get mail, thanks to his mail carrier.

“My numbers were all off the mailbox, but the mail carrier still delivers to my address, which is good,” he said, noting his concern for seasonal residents who may not know yet that their box was damaged, which not only impacts mail delivery but might indicate to passersby which property owners haven’t visited their home since the storms.

Dowds said that the postal service has worked diligently to ensure that customers’ mail delivery will not be impeded by the storms.

“Through all these storms, we were out there delivering. We never stopped because of the weather,” he said. “Even during the State of Emergency, we were out there.”

Barber, who said he fixed his family’s mailbox damaged with duct tape, said the damage has upset him so much that he thinks charges should be considered for the drivers.

Westhofff noted that more than 400 plows are dispersed evenly throughout the state during a snowstorm.

“The challenge is that we have only so much time to clear the roads before the morning commute or evening commute. It’s a challenge to get as much done as we can in the time that we have.”

Those who have damaged property as a result of plowing may contact the Delaware Insurance Office to apply for a reimbursement.

“You call them up, and they say to go ahead and replace it,” explained Pszczola. “You have to go to the store, buy the mailbox and put everything up, or you can call a contractor or someone and have them install it for you. Of course, you have to spend the money up upfront and then you have to submit it all. … Usually, it takes about a week or two weeks to get reimbursed.

“It’s just the inconvenience of it,” he said of the problem. “You don’t mind if it happens once, but after the second time… it gets old.”

Pszczola said, this year, he’ll have had to replace his mailbox three times, or possibly more if there’s another snowstorm, due to the plowing damage.

“You figure, that’s going to come out to be costly,” he said, noting that mailboxes can cost $75 or more, depending on the type.

Pszczola stated that he wasn’t angry about the damage, just unhappy with the inconvenience of dealing with having to replace his mailbox more than once.

“I know they’re trying to do their job… I think the guy needs to go a little slower in his truck. I’ve never had this issue before. I think someone needs to be brought to their attention and be a little more careful, whoever it is,” he said. “Is someone new doing the route? From what I understand, on Route 24 there were a lot of mailboxes destroyed there too.”

Westhoff said that plow drivers in the state are all licensed CDL operators and also receive additional training.

“They compete in the truck rodeo,” he explained. “Part of that truck rodeo is they have to drive between mailboxes, and they’re judged on how well they do that.”

He added that the drivers do not want to damage property and do their best to avoid doing so.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that happens, but we try to do everything we can to minimize the damage done to anyone’s property. We are working those hours so we can serve our neighbors. No one wants to damage property.”

To contact the Delaware Insurance Office, call (877) 277-4185 or email inscov@state.de.us. To contact the Roxana postal distribution center about mail delivery, call (302) 436-7316.