The enormous mounds of snow that increase in height and breadth with each winter storm have municipalities looking for places to put them, businesses searching for ways to get rid of them and drivers straining to see around them.
In some cases, the hazardous drifts and piles even have neighbors battling over who’s responsible for them.
As mandated in a cross-easement agreement with neighbor Leavitt & Sons deli, Rite-Aid in Falmouth is required to clear the ingress from its parking lot to Leavitt’s lot. A month ago, as accumulating snow rendered the drive nearly impossible for his customers to navigate, Peter Leavitt said he contacted the store’s manager and its corporate headquarters to try to enforce the agreement. According to Leavitt, he was told the snow would be gone “in two months, when it melts.”
After his efforts failed, Leavitt turned to the town for help. Code Enforcement Officer Al Farris visited the site last Friday and told Rite-Aid it needed to clear the space by Monday or face a fine of $100 a day.
Leavitt said he received many comments from his customers and observed near-collisions in his parking lot due to the problem. Although he can’t quantify how big an impact the impaired travel in his lot may have had on his business, he said “it couldn’t have been positive.”
With meteorologists warning of a return to the epic New England winters of the 1960s, public works directors are steeling themselves against these budget-busting storms.
“We’ve got records going all the way back,” Dana Anderson, South Portland director of public works, said. “It’s right in that cycle – over 100 inches.”
South Portland spends about $30,000 on plowing, salting and sanding for “a typical 8-inch storm,” Anderson said. Although the city has the ability to dump snow in a designated site at its landfill, Anderson said they try not to haul too much because of the expense. If they must cart piles away after plowing, they do it in-house during the day to cut costs.
“Snow in Maine, you get a lot of complaints,” he said. “But most people are very understanding about what we’re up against. We don’t have the equipment and manpower we used to have.”
Anderson said it’s particularly hard on businesses that are “scraping every dime now” to keep their parking spaces clear.
In Bath, Public Works Director Peter Owen said the city is allowed to dump snow into the Kennebec River if it’s done within 72 hours of a storm. Otherwise, the city must truck it behind the public works’ garage. With so many narrow roads lined with small businesses, Owen said they initially push the snow back as much as possible and later return to remove it from the edges.
“Individuals are left doing the best they can,” Anderson said, and residents and businesses must often pay to have their snow removed.
The city of Portland is obligated to remove snow from the downtown district, Steve Early, Portland’s street and utilities manager said. That means hauling it to the city’s snow dump on Congress Street after almost every storm. That dump is located on an airport flight path and can only be piled so high. This season, with three major storms and no January thaw, it “is getting filled up,” he said.
Early said the city has had some problems with businesses whose contracted snow plow operators push the snow from their lots onto city sidewalks. “We’ve been trying to address that through correspondence,” he said.
Though Scarborough does not have a problem of street-side parking in its business areas, Public Works Director Mike Shaw said there are sometimes snow removal issues with private contractors.
“At the beginning of the season, we’ll have a little bit of a tug of war,” Shaw said. “We wait until the storms hit, then have a conversation back and forth and usually come up with some resolution that works for both of us.”
Portland has $1.2 million budgeted for snow removal, with $520,000 of
that going to the cost of road salt, Early said. In the last four to
five years, the price of salt has doubled and is expected to continue
to increase, creating a crisis for many municipalities, he said.
As communities across southern Maine struggle with an increase of heavy snowstorms and a decrease in coffers, they must continue to be creative in managing the rising cost while maintaining public safety and looking out for the interests of businesses and individuals – challenges that aren’t likely to melt away as quickly as the mounds of snow.