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Snowplow vs. mailbox: Who pays the bill?

Union Leader Correspondent

February 24. 2013 11:01PM
Harold Fuller of Epping holds a piece of the number that fell off his mailbox when it was ripped from its granite post by a town snowplow during the blizzard earlier this month. Selectmen told him the town isn't responsible for replacing damaged mailboxes in the town's right-of-way. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

If your mailbox falls victim to plows clearing roadways, you may not know that where you live determines whether you have to pay for its replacement.

When a snow plow ripped his $70 metal mailbox off its granite post in a blizzard earlier this month, Harold Fuller assumed the town of Epping would replace it. He was wrong.

Epping has a snow removal policy that relieves the town of any liability when a mailbox placed in the town's right-of-way is struck. In fact, the policy refers to mailboxes as a "nuisance." Many communities in the state have similar policies.

"Plowing is plowing. The guys driving these trucks just can't possibly aim away from everything, although I do think they try ... Sorry about your mailbox," Epping Selectman Dianne Gilbert told Fuller's son when he met with selectmen.

While Fuller praised the plow operators for the work they do in tough conditions, he said he still feels the town holds some responsibility. He's now paying to have the mailbox rigged up so it'll hang and swing the next time it's hit.

"There are some people who put a lot of money into their mailboxes," he said. "I would like to see this policy revisited."

Derry's policy states that any mailboxes, light poles, fences and other structures placed within 8 feet of the edge of the pavement are there at the owner's risk and the town won't replace them if they're damaged. The town recommends installing a mailbox on a chain so it'll swing if it's hit.

Hampstead Road Agent Jon Worthen said the town will replace the mailboxes if the damage was caused by one of the town's plow trucks. If the mailbox was hit by a private contractor hired by the town to help with plowing, Worthen said that contractor has insurance and will take care of the replacement.

Not every hit results in a new mailbox, however.

"If the post is all rotted and being held up by duct tape, we won't replace them," he said.

In Raymond, town highway workers will first check to see if there's any paint from the plow on a post or mailbox to determine whether it was hit by a town or private plow operator, said Denise O'Grady, public works assistant.

If it's determined that a town plow struck the box, O'Grady said the town will install a temporary box and replace it with a standard black mailbox in the spring.

Goffstown Town Administrator Sue Desruisseaux said town plow drivers usually report mailbox damage immediately. The town then assesses the damage and the box is repaired. If a box and/or post needs to be replaced, she said the town will install a standard mailbox and post.

"We're not going to be putting in granite posts," Desruisseaux said.

Goffstown's mailbox policy states, in part: "Individuals placing ornate boxes or granite posts in the right-of-way do so at their own risk. It should also be noted that property owners are liable for any obstructions they place in the (right-of-way) that cause damage to the town's equipment."

Under its policy, the town isn't responsible when the damage is caused by snow flying off the plow, or in cases where the mailbox is attached to a rotten post or was poorly placed.

The town of Exeter gives homeowners $50 to put toward a replacement.

"It usually doesn't cover the cost, but it is something," Exeter Town Manager Russ Dean said.

He added: "The complaints we do get is that the reimbursement isn't enough," he said.

Fuller said he would take any reimbursement from the town of Epping to help pay for his new swinging mailbox setup, which he hopes will avoid a repeat of the scene he faced when his box was ripped down and left in the deep snow.

"I only discovered it was gone when mail started flying out of the snowblower," he said.

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