NORRIDGEWOCK — Residents are no longer allowed to get sand for their driveways and walkways from the town public works department.
The town has historically provided sand to residents, and some said after Sunday’s decision by Town Manager Michelle Flewelling is not fair.
Flewelling made the decision because the town has already used up most of its winter supply and following reports of traffic congestion at the public works garage over the weekend.
“We will not be putting sand out for the rest of the year, due to the fact that we are more than three-quarters of the way through our supply and we cannot police it when we do put it out,” Flewelling said.
Since Monday there has been a sign at the garage that says “No Sand.”
Some residents are not happy with the decision.
“We as taxpayers pay for sand and salt and for years we’ve been able to go get sand for our own safety,” said Lisa Lewandowski, 50. “If they’re running low on sand the solution is to get more, not to cut us off.”
Lewandowski and her husband, Joe, have lived in Norridgewock for 14 years, but have only gone to the town’s public works garage once to get sand for their driveway, she said.
Joe Lewandowski is a contractor and while the couple usually stockpile their own sand, Lisa Lewandowski said she is concerned about other residents, including the elderly, who have been cut off.
And while residents can buy sand, the number of winter storms this year is demanding a large than usual quantity of something that for years was provided by the town, said Lewandowski.
Some town services, like providing sand and salt in the winter, are not required, although many municipalities provide them, according to Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association.
There is no written policy on providing sand, although it is something the town has historically done, said Flewelling. She said the town supply is running low — it’s at about 1,700 yards, down from 4,500 at the beginning of the season. It takes about 250 yards of sand to maintain the roads per storm and there have been 12 storms or other weather requiring the roads be treated so far this year, she said.
Close to two feet of snow fell in central Maine in December, accompanied by many nights of sub-zero temperatures and an ice storm that hit right before Christmas, covering the area in freezing rain and cutting off power to thousands. The average temperature in Waterville in December was 19.4 degrees, the coldest it’s been in at least the last 10 years, according to the National Weather Service.
Over the weekend more freezing rain fell, causing car accidents throughout the state and raising concerns about flooding as temperatures warmed up earlier this week.
So far this season, the town of Norridgewock has spent more $20,000 on salt and $12,432 on sand, said Flewelling.
“We tell people to try and limit themselves to three or four buckets, but the unfortunate thing is that we do not have manpower to police that activity, so it is basically left to the honor system,” she said. “What we do know is the fact that we have a very small amount of sand left in storage and with the rain events we’ve experienced just this week there are some serious concerns about how we’re going to make it through the rest of the season.”
Municipalities that provide sand do so under the premise that sand makes it easier for emergency response personnel to access private homes, Conrad said. Providing sand, however, can be hard to monitor and there is no way for municipalities to regulate how much people are taking, he said.
“The town of Norridgewock definitely has the right under law to take the step they took,” said Conrad. “An argument against that would be what if a resident is taking five times more for his driveway than another resident? That person could argue that they’re not getting what they deserve for their tax dollar.”
Many towns in the area provide sand for residents and many also have limits on the amount of sand that can be taken. Given the icy conditions that have plagued most of central Maine for the last few weeks, many municipalities including Norridgewock say they are concerned about getting through the rest of the winter with the supplies they have while staying within budget lines.
In Waterville, residents are limited to two five-gallon buckets of sand per household per week, said Mark Turner, director of public works.
“It’s something we are happy to offer to the public. It’s a critical need for many households, so we are supplying it at this time and don’t anticipate cutting it off,” said Turner.
Belgrade also adheres to a two five-gallon bucket per household policy that town manager Gregory Gill said he believes most people adhere to.
In Skowhegan, Road Commissioner Gregory Dore said the town has used more than half of its sand stockpile but is still supplying residents.
“It’s very unusual for us. If this winter continues the way it has we’ll almost definitely run out within the next month,” said Dore. The town does have a reserve of sand so Dore said it is unlikely they would have to buy more.
Access to sand supplies can be difficult in the winter because the ground around sand pits is frozen and most contractors do not have ready access to the equipment needed to collect sand in the winter, said Dore.
The city of Portland, which has a population of about 66,000, also provides sand and salt for its residents at 40 locations around the city.
“This is a winter to be concerned about. I can see other towns taking steps like this because they’re trying to hang on to what they have left and not spend more money to buy more sand later in the year because they may not have budgeted for it. That would affect property taxpayers as well,” said Conrad.
Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 firstname.lastname@example.org