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Mailboxes vs. winter weather: Revisiting the rules

The winter of 2010-11 has been brutal on everyone and everything in St. Croix County, including mailboxes along county roads.

County plow operators pass around 13,000 mailboxes during each snow removal round they drive in a typical snow storm; during one winter storm a plow can average about four rounds.

So when mailboxes along roadsides are not properly installed, the weight of wet, heavy snow coming from a plow can have damaging effects.

On a rare occasion, a plow truck will hit a mailbox, due to low visibility or to avoid a head-on collision, as a plow must cross the centerline to avoid some mailboxes.

This year the St. Croix County Highway Department received several complaints about damaged mailboxes. Of those complaints, St. Croix County Highway Department Operations Specialist Mike Kjeseth said only around 20 percent were actually hit by a plow.

The majority of damaged mailboxes stem from improper installation.

Mailboxes are the only structure that private owners are allowed to install within the right-of-way without a permit. The mailbox rule is a matter of convenience for the landowners.

Commissioner of the St. Croix County Highway Department Tim Ramberg said the county is issuing notices to all newspapers in the county about how to properly install a mailbox.

He said that with spring cleaning and yard work starting up, now is a good time to send out a "friendly-reminder" about standard installation procedures.

The mailbox notice created by the department says, "All mailboxes placed within the public right-of-way are owned by the property owner and are placed there at the owner's risk."

The notice says that the proper location and installation of mailboxes can minimize potential hazards and provide for safe travel, convenient mail delivery and effectively accommodate maintenance activities.

The department (as well as the U.S. Postal Service) suggests mounting mailboxes at a height of 42 to 48 inches from the road surface to the bottom of the mailbox and mailbox posts should be a minimum of two feet off the shoulder.

Kjeseth also mentioned extra guidelines for unique mailboxes and supports.

"Mailbox supports must be designed so that if struck, it will bend or fall away from the striking vehicle to prevent severe damage to the vehicle or injury to the traveling public. Massive supports such as telephone poles, heavy metal posts, concrete posts, antique farm equipment or other similar items are prohibited."

In addition to unique posts, Ramberg said plastic mailboxes can become very brittle in the winter and oversized mailboxes may collapse from the weight of heavy snow.

Ramberg said he hopes residents take a few moments this spring to make sure their mailboxes meet the standard installation requirements.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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