With snow piling up wherever snow can be piled, some central Maine towns are struggling with private plowers and homeowners pushing snow into the roads or sidewalks.

It’s against state law to put snow or slush in a public way, and at least one area municipality has its own ordinance against it. But the spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation and municipal officials say they haven’t had to level punishments in connection with the problem because people usually listen after being told to stop.

“Usually if you give a person a call or stop and talk to them while they’re doing it, they understand and change their ways,” Skowhegan Road Commissioner Gregory Dore said. “At least for the rest of the year.”

Plowing snow from a driveway across the road into the opposite side can be dangerous because extra piles of snow on the snowbanks, especially when hardened, get in the way of plow trucks’ wings, state transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said. When a plow truck’s wing hits extra snow on the side of a road, the impact can throw the truck into the other lane, he said.

“If you have an oncoming car, that could be a very serious situation,” Talbot said.

He said the department has found educating people is the best way to prevent people from pushing snow into roads. The state law prohibiting people from placing snow or slush in a public way doesn’t include a penalty, but the department could seek an injunction from a judge to penalize people for not following the law, Talbot said.

The department has never had to do that, he said.

“I think what you’ll find is why some of the towns continue to have issues is it’s not really enforced. Our last resort would be to have a sheriff knock on a door. We’d rather do it through education,” Talbot said.

The town of Chelsea recently made educational pamphlets to hand out to people caught moving snow onto the roads and posted a reminder on its website.

Town Manager Scott Tilton said he, along with the selectmen and plow drivers in town, noticed more people this winter pushing snow into the roads. It makes removing the snow more challenging, and the higher snowbanks at intersections are dangerous, he said.

“The way the snow’s piling up, it can’t continue to happen,” Tilton said.

Snowfall totals in Augusta and Portland this winter recently pushed past 80 inches — around 7 feet — following several substantial storms in succession. Around 83 inches had fallen at the Portland International Jetport as of late Thursday morning, almost double the normal snowfall total at this point in the season, according to the National Weather Service. In Augusta, the city had measured about 84 inches of snowfall before the Thursday morning storm, which dropped around 3 to 5 inches across Kennebec County.

Lesley Jones, director of public works for Augusta, said the city has a letter citing the city’s ordinance prohibiting placing snow or ice on roads or sidewalks that it can send to people who don’t follow the guidelines. The city may send the letter before next winter to cut down on the number of business or property owners not following the ordinance, she said.

The city can fine people $100 a day for violations, but Jones said the city is usually able to work the problem out with violators.

Besides people plowing snow across roads, the city has more private plow truck drivers for businesses or homes pushing snow onto sidewalks, she said. The problem has been worse this year because cold temperatures have kept a lot of the snow around and the back-to-back storms have prevented the city from doing more snow removal, Jones said.

“Anything they can do to help us do our job better is appreciated,” she said. “It’s hard when there’s this much snow. Even though we have bigger trucks, it’s still a lot of snow to move.”

Waterville Public Works Director Mark Turner said his city hasn’t had many problems involving people moving snow into roads in the last couple of years, but it can create hazards if large chunks remain in the roads. The city posts reminders on its website, and people seem to be conscious of the issue, he said.

“There’s just so much snow right now that it’s a little bit difficult to move it around for everybody,” Turner said.

Dore, the road commissioner in Skowhegan, also said he doesn’t think problems were any worse this year. When one occurs, someone from the town gives a spoken warning, he said.

Occasionally, people plow the snow from driveways onto sidewalks, he said. When that happens, crews can’t get sidewalks cleared until they bring a bucket loader, because sidewalk plows usually can’t get through, Dore said.

Talbot, the state transportation spokesman, said he thinks education about the dangers of moving snow into roads has curbed the practice over the years.

“This is a lot of snow, and people are desperate to find ways to deal with it. We’ve never come at it from the point of view that they’re nefarious,” Talbot said of people ignoring the law. “They’re just trying to survive like the rest of us, but there are risks involved when you take it upon yourself to do something like this.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.