CHINA — The town will not reimburse property owners for the cost of any damages to mailboxes caused by the town’s snow plow or other equipment, according to a new policy.

China’s select board unanimously approved the adoption of its first mailbox policy at a meeting on Monday night. The policy also contains non-mandatory guidelines about the ideal mailbox height, location, offset distance and post types to best avoid damage.

Similar municipal policies exist in Winslow and Vassalboro. The regulations are based on a standard policy issued by the Maine Department of Transportation for mailboxes on state and state-aid highways.

“The bottom line is that with this policy, we would not accept any liability for somebody’s mailbox getting destroyed because it happens to get hit with a load of snow when a plow truck comes by,” Town Manager Dennis Heath said. “The state doesn’t pay for them, and I really don’t think that it’s our responsibility for us to replace people’s mailboxes because they’re either improperly set or they’re not … in the right spot.”

The policy also contains a rule that individuals “may even be held liable for injuries or damages that may have been incurred” due to improper mailbox placement. The new rules are effective immediately.

Selectmen Jeff LaVerdiere and Robert MacFarland noted that while they did not oppose the regulations, town-caused damage to mailboxes is nearly unavoidable.

“It’s impossible,” said LaVerdiere at a Nov. 26 select board meeting, when the topic was first discussed. “No matter how well they put their mailbox up, there’s no damn way that you can prevent — when you have snow banks this high, it’s snowing four feet, you’ve got to knock them back. I mean there’s just no way to avoid it.”

LaVerdiere said while he agreed that China should not pay to replace residents’ mailboxes, he did not think the town should impose any rules on their placement.

“We’re not telling them how to mount their mailbox,” Heath said. “All we’re doing is telling them that if you want to look at this for how to put your mailbox, you can look here and it’ll give you some information, some guidelines.”

In order to avoid damage from plowed snow, the guidelines suggest that a mailbox should be at least one foot away from the edge of a road’s shoulder and 41 inches or higher from the ground.

“MaineDOT recommends that this height be closer to the 45-inch measurement to minimize conflict with the height of the plow truck wing when snow is being pushed back during, or between, winter storms,” the state, and now town, policy reads.

According to the Department of Transportation, the average height of a plow is 39 inches.

Shawn Reed, from China’s public works department, noted that plow operators have historically attempted to cause as little damage to people’s mailboxes as possible during the winter, but that this can be difficult.

“The people, they don’t shovel out their mailboxes, so (snow) keeps building up, building up” he said. “Coming down the road, all you see is snow. If I knew (a mailbox) was there, I would try to avoid it just to be nice.”

“We’re just trying to relieve our liabilities, that’s all,” Reed added.

The DOT guidelines also suggest that mailboxes be placed on the far side of a driveway as someone approaches to “minimize the amount of snow that comes off of the snow plow, and improve the approach for your mail carrier.” If the mailbox is near a sidewalk, the agency advised that it should leave at least three feet of width to enable people to use the sidewalk safely and for it to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

The document notes that “an extended arm type of post with a free-swinging suspended mailbox” best allows plows to clear the ground without damaging the fixture. Four-by-four wooden posts, one to two inch steel or aluminum pipes or U-channel posts should be embedded two feet into the ground. Heavy concrete or stone posts can create hazards for drivers who may veer off the road.

While China, Winslow and Vassalboro do not offer compensation for mailboxes damaged by town equipment or operators, some municipalities in the area do. Waterville’s policy, for instance, notes that it will reimburse individuals on a case-by-case basis.

The city’s director of public works, Mark Turner, said that his department investigates the mailbox in order to decide whether one of its vehicles or employees are responsible for the damage.

“We’re basically looking for orange paint. That’s our first thought, because that’s the color of our plows,” said Turner. “We can tell if it’s been either dislodged by a snow bank or destroyed by a plow coming through. We kind of make a judgment call in the field when we’re out looking at it.”

Turner said that he receives about two or three requests for mailbox compensation a year. The town covers the cost for a “4 X 4 pressure treated post and standard metal USPS box,” according to its written guidelines. Turner said this costs around $25-30. The document does not note the date it was adopted, but Turner estimated that the policy has been in place for at least 10 years.

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

@megrobbins

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