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Vern Kemper of the Wadena County Highway department poses with the county's stockpile of special "swing-away" mailbox supports. The county will replace a resident's mailbox if it is damaged by a county snowplow. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

Bent out of shape; Residents with snowplow-damaged mailboxes have options

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If a snowplow should happen to damage a mailbox during the long winter months in Wadena, it's likely nothing to get bent out of shape about.

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That's because in some cases, one may have a new mailbox put in for free, courtesy of the city, county or state government, depending on which one is in charge of plowing the road in question.

County road mailboxes fall under the jurisdiction of County Highway Engineer Ryan Odden, who said this snow season has seen about 15 complaints county-wide of plows damaging mailboxes. He added that the main problem is not snowplows hitting the boxes directly, but the force of the snow that is flung to the side when the plows pass by.

If a county plow knocks over a mailbox, a crew will install a new one free of charge typically within 2-3 days of the accident, after an on-site examination, Odden said.

"Honestly, most people don't get too upset because they end up with a fixed-up mailbox that's going to last another 20, 30 years," Odden said.

The mailbox posts the county uses as replacements are specifically designed to avoid being damaged by a snowplow. Made out of the same iron used in road sign posts, the mailbox posts have a hinge in them that lets the box swing with the impact of snow rather than taking the full force of the blow. The support arm with the box attached to it is placed higher than Wadena County plows can hit with their "wings," or side blades, that constitute the part of the snowplow that most commonly comes into contact with conventional mailboxes, Odden said.

If one lives on a city street, their mailbox is the concern of Ron Bucholz, Wadena public works director. He said plow vs. mailbox accidents are less common in town because most people get their mail via a carrier walking up to their home rather than having a mailbox by the road. So far this winter, the only complaints he has heard regarding snowplows and mailboxes have had to do with other city road crews not plowing close enough to the edge of the road, forcing residents to shovel through the drifts to get to their mail.

Bucholz said the city will replace knocked-over mailboxes only if the plow itself makes contact with them; not if they're knocked over by flying snow.

In the event a snowplow does knock over the mailbox, the resident would make their own arrangements to have a new one installed and then send in the bill to the city, Bucholz said. If the new mailbox is put in according to U.S. Postal Service and Minnesota Department of Transportation guidelines, the city will reimburse the owner.

For those living on a state highway, like Highway 10, the state of Minnesota will automatically replace a mailbox if it has a swing-away design approved by MnDOT and is damaged by a direct hit from a plow, said J.P. Gillach, spokesperson at MnDOT. He also said when the state gets complaints about its plows knocking over mailboxes, it's "almost always" because the owner had a mailbox that wasn't the swing-away type.

"If something like that breaks, we may not replace it," Gillach said. "We've got this thing designed so that we can get our work done and it's efficient and it works for everybody."

Gillach recalled when his own mailbox was recently taken down by a Wright County plow. Because he had a swing-away mailbox, all the county had to do was bend it back up.

"It just kind of shows you that design definitely works," Gillach said.

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