Four days after a city snowplow was caught on video driving through garbage and recycling carts on her residential street, Jenne Nelson and her two small children were still picking up trash embedded in the snowbanks on their way to the school bus stop.
For Nelson, who lives on Iowa Avenue, and other St. Paul residents, the unsightly plow-versus-property incident has been a lesson in sympathy fatigue. On Tuesday, an East Side property owner came forward with security video taken during a previous snow emergency in late December, this one showing a city snow plow barreling through his tenants’ trash and recycling carts on Burr Street.
As chair of the Como District 10 Community Council, Nelson encourages residents to move cars and carts out of the way of snow plows when the city declares a snow emergency, as it did last Thursday evening, but she questions why the city’s coordination with trash and recycling collection wasn’t better handled.
“It was a foreseeable problem. I’m not sure why our section of St. Paul was scheduled to be plowed on collection day, but I think we’d all appreciate better communication from the city, both internally and to residents,” Nelson said on Tuesday. “I’m sure it’s a beast to coordinate. When I look at my neighbors, it wasn’t like people had their carts in the middle of the street.”
At root, residents, city officials, plow drivers and trash and recycling haulers are all growing visibly frustrated with the same obstacle — the weather.
Snowfall totals at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have exceeded 52 inches since early October, already on par with or even surpassing the typical snowfall for an entire winter season, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
“A lot of people have compassion for the snowplow drivers because they know it’s been a slog this winter, and there is gratitude that the city has made efforts to continue clearing roads as the weather has allowed,” Nelson said. “But residents are also struggling with the huge amount of snow we’ve had. We’re literally running out of places to put it, which means space for our garbage and recycling carts is increasingly limited, too.”
Investigating Como incident
St. Paul Public Works Director Sean Kershaw has said his department is investigating the Como incident, which impacted more than one street. St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen described the plow driver’s behavior this weekend as “completely outrageous and unacceptable.”
At the same time, Public Works has encouraged residents to keep streets clear of cars and carts so the plow drivers can do their jobs and clear the roads of snow.
“There is a lot of snow out there right now, and we need to continue to work with our residents and our haulers to make sure they’re not putting carts out in the street, ever,” said Lisa Hiebert, a spokesperson for St. Paul Public Works, on Tuesday.
An online reader put things even more bluntly after watching the Como video: “Bins were on the road. … Owners of those bins should get a fine if they want to report the damaged bins.”
Some residents said they’ve been conscientious about keeping carts on the curb, when they can find the curb line under heaps of snow, and they blamed trash and recycling haulers for dropping emptied carts haphazardly. “It is the trash and recycling companies that are at fault,” said Highland Park resident Carol Tauer, in an email Tuesday.
Still, the Como dust-up isn’t entirely unprecedented. Nelson said neighborhood residents living closer to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds contacted her to report their trash and recycling carts had recently been plowed through, as well.
Dec. 22 incident
Around 4 a.m. on Dec. 22, during an announced snow emergency, St. Paul landlord Fredric McClaine’s Ring security camera captured video of a city snow plow driver knocking over his tenants’ trash and recycling carts on Burr Street, a short dead-end road off Phalen Boulevard.
McClaine issued a written complaint to St. Paul Public Works and later received notification it would be forwarded to a street maintenance supervisor. He said he has yet to hear anything further.
“As a resident, I don’t know what to do in these situations,” McClaine said. “It seems like it was done with intent. It’s like a game of bowling — knocking over the pins.”
He noted Tuesday that Burr is dotted with few cars, and he had already removed snow from a previous snowfall when the apparently frustrated plow driver sent trash and recycling across his tenants’ front yard.
“I have a plow myself, so there wasn’t much snow there to begin with,” McClaine said.
Hiebert said she could not immediately comment on any potential disciplinary action involving the Como and Burr Street plow drivers, as disciplinary matters are typically not made public before an investigation is complete.