Earlier this winter, a plow truck took out Beth Holloway’s Litchfield mailbox.

She put up a replacement. Before too long, another plow snapped that one in two.

“They also ruined my rock wall around the back of the mailbox where I put my flowers,” Holloway said.

Mike Blanchet in Farmington hired a bucket loader to dig out his mailbox after the recent slew of storms.

“I would have had to shovel out 25 feet of freezing, solid iceberg,” he said.

Bashed or buried, it’s the season for the mailbox blues.


Piling on to the usual annual hassle: Depending on where you are in the state, it snowed 3 or more feet the first two weeks of February.

The historical average for the entire month, measured in Portland, is just over 9 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Lewiston replaces an average of 40 mailboxes each year hit by city plow trucks or knocked over by plows’ powerful snow wakes; so far this winter, they’ve gotten complaints about 77.

“Some (residents) are understanding of what’s taking place, others are irate, especially if we’ve hit it twice,” said Deputy Director Megan Bates at Lewiston Public Works.

This week she investigated a homeowner’s gripe that a plow kept aiming for her mailbox, claiming it was the only one on the road getting nailed.

“Of course, you drive it and you see someone who has put duct tape to hold theirs down, you’ve got a mailbox that is actually on a trash can, so you know that it’s not just theirs,” Bates said. “You look at the plow line to see that the plow didn’t go toward the mailbox. Unless you actually get up inside of a plow truck and you plow some of these roads, especially when you’re in a truck for 16 or 18 hours, it’s hard to understand how challenging it can be.”


The Maine Department of Transportation clears 8,300 miles of roads after each storm. They’ve got a mailbox-at-your-own-risk policy — if a state plow strikes a box placed within the state’s right of way, well, mostly, politely, tough luck — so they don’t keep a rolling statewide count of strikes.

But especially with the heavy snow from the last storm, “this is an above-normal type of complaint season, if you will,” said DOT spokesman Ted Talbot.

Both Lewiston and Auburn offer basic permanent replacements come spring, but that’s somewhat unique, Bates said. Most towns and cities don’t.

Both cities also provide temporary mailboxes to inconvenienced homeowners: in Lewiston, a box on a post stuck in a five-gallon bucket and in Auburn, a box on a steel post welded to a spare tire.

Scott Holland, Auburn’s deputy director of public services, said Auburn averages 40 to 50 spring replacements a year. He hasn’t tallied numbers so far this winter, but “we’re up there. With the last storm, there were quite a few of them that came in.”

Bates, who budgets for 40 boxes and 40 posts annually, isn’t yet sure how many of the 77 complaints will need either or both.


Talbot said the DOT sometimes replace boxes “under extraordinary circumstances.” The department also coaches homeowners who live on state highways to follow a pair of installation guidelines from the U.S. Postal Service and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials lest their mailbox turn into a potential liability or a “deadly fixed object.”

“Many people like to make personal statements with their mailboxes (like elaborate designs made from stone, masonry or steel) without considering the potential consequences of a driver losing control of their vehicle in front of their house,” Talbot said.

Your box is gone. Now what? 

Officially, USPS wants 30 feet of clearance around every free-standing mailbox in order to deliver, according to spokesman Steve Doherty. That’s 15 feet before the mailbox and 15 feet after.

When the box is buried, or gone, enter the “snow hold.”

Local post offices will hold mail for a short period of time “determined locally, on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances,” Doherty said.


Numbers aren’t kept statewide on the snow holds and USPS doesn’t alert homeowners they’ve been placed on one, arguing that they couldn’t deliver a notice because they couldn’t deliver the mail in the first place.

Blanchet in Farmington headed down to his local post office after combing his house and car for usual end-of-the month mail, like a mortgage statement, and not finding it.

“I kept asking my fiancee if she was picking up the mail and not giving it to me,” he said.

Turned out, he hadn’t been getting mail for as much as two weeks.

“(The postmaster) showed me seven pages of addresses that were undeliverable due to the snowbank situation,” Blanchet said.

He’d been unaware he was one of them.


“We had a bucket loader come out and push the snowbanks back. While he was there I asked him to do around the mailboxes, which he did, so we’re back on the motor route again,” Blanchet said. “It’s our first winter on Bailey Hill Road. I bought the house in the spring so I never gave a thought to the snow removal headache.”

A plow truck pushing a blizzard’s worth of snow two weeks ago knocked Yvette Russell’s mailbox sideways in Sabattus. After a quick fix and shoveling out by her husband, the postal carrier couldn’t reach — still just too much snow.

He shoveled more, the carrier tried to deliver again, got stuck and wasn’t keen on coming back.

Four letterless days later, after a friend came by with a plow, eureka! Mail.

“We were incredibly frustrated, but now laughing about it,” Russell said. “(It’s) definitely the worst of it out of all our Maine winters.”

Brunswick Postmaster Timothy Mayo estimated he had fewer than 75 snow holds among his 25,000 daily deliveries in Brunswick and Topsham.


“Last week was an absolute mess for us,” he said.

It’s tough for his walking carriers; sidewalks are rarely the first things to be plowed in a heavy storm. And his drivers have to contend with ice and other drivers.

“We do have a lot of customers that aren’t as on top of trying to keep things clear, and sometimes they just get plain tired of messing with it,” he said. “I was dealing with a customer today, ‘Why aren’t you delivering our packages?’ I drove up with a four-wheel drive and I said, ‘I don’t want my carrier up here.’ Once you got up off the road and got up the rise a little bit, there was 4 to 6 inches of ice all over the road.”

That attitude, Mayo said, is thankfully in the minority.

“Most of our customers go far and beyond trying to make sure that it’s clear and safe for their carrier to come up because they end up having a relationship with their carrier through the years and they don’t want them to get hurt anymore than they’d want one of their own friends or family to get hurt,” he said.

If there’s good news, it may be in a slight reprieve: Despite getting 66.4 inches of snow so far this winter, 23 inches above normal, there’s plenty of cold but no immediate snow in the forecast, according to Bob Marine, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray.


And as much as there’s angst, there’s also, occasionally, a happy ending.

In Wilton, Jeffrey Le Doux stewed for years after plows took out his mailbox almost every winter, sometimes several times.

He complained, loudly. He even mulled suing the town, telling a reporter in 2013, “I’m tired of paying for what a jerk does.” (The alleged jerk was the plow driver.)

Two summers ago, the town replaced his mailbox and his neighbor’s. This week, his snowbanks were 6 feet high.

And his mailbox?

“Believe it or not, they haven’t knocked it over this year,” Le Doux said.


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