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Cold facts about playing hot potato with snow

Dear Action Line: Why would this Durango homeowner want to flaunt his supply of orange cones? To challenge the city plow operator? – Orange Cone Lover

This is one way to try to keep the snow off your property. But those who try it may meet some resistance. (Orange Cone Lover)

Dear Orange: Is it possible that the homeowner just helpfully gathered some stray cones left over from nearby projects and displayed them in this manner so a city worker could stop and reclaim them?

Action Line is so eternally optimistic about people and their motives.

Why are these cones there? We’ll propound on possibilities presently. But first, a reaction from the city.

Mike Somsen, the city’s street superintendent, said a permit is required for anyone to place traffic control devices in the street.

“In this case, there is not a valid need for traffic control devices and they become a hazard, so, no permit would be issued,” Somsen said.

People get peculiarly particular about pushing particulate precipitation around during one of Southwest Colorado’s increasingly rare snowstorms. Some residents curse city machines each time they plow a line of snow across a driveway opening. Sometimes this plowed snow ices up and becomes difficult if not impossible to remove, and sometimes it causes ice dams that produce flooding onto sidewalks.

Snow-pushing angst is understandable to some extent, but realize that the city has 164 land miles of roads in the city and 55 city blocks in the downtown commercial area to clear. Plow drivers do their best and work long, often late-night hours to get the job done.

One theory on the cones was they were reserving a parking space. But the answer is that it’s a certain gardener protective of his greenery.

“Yes, the cones are for plant protection,” fessed Mike Smedley, Action Line emeritus. “I strive to prevent frozen chunks of salty death from being heaped on my award-winning and popular streetside garden.

“All that stands between sterilization and six months of riotous blooms are a few stray orange cones. Which the city has now declared an act of civil disobedience.”

Smedley said he empathizes with the hardworking plow drivers, but believes in this case they are being overzealous. He said that city plows take several passes, and the third pass pushes a toxic slop over the curb onto his garden, which he toils on for hundreds of hours each year for himself and the neighborhood to enjoy.

Is the choice between a verdant curbside garden or having it be a repository for toxic salty chunks of street slush? If so, gardener Mike Smedley aims for the first option.(Courtesy of Mike Smedley)

Somsen said the city uses a mixture of salt and sand on city streets, but added that side streets such as the one in question generally aren’t salt/sanded except possibly at intersections with stop signs. He went and recovered the cones (three of five) that were owned by the city. (Smedley had found them abandoned nearby after city projects had been completed.)

Darrin Parmenter, director of the La Plata County Extension Office and horticulture agent, said he’s also protective of his plants. His answer brought back memories of long-lost hoops-in-the-driveway days.

“If the stray basketball hits the peony or the newly planted lilac, I may stare at my kid with the stink eye,” Parmenter said. “I may give that same scornful look to the snowplow driver as they push a bunch of heavy street-snow onto my landscape as well.”

Plants are highly sensitive to high levels of salts, Parmenter said. That generally only occurs in dry conditions when salt accumulates; because salts are soluble, soaking the soil typically remedies the situation, he added.

“My landscape has 99 problems (poor soil, expensive irrigation, no rain, town deer) and I wouldn’t want salts to be one of them,” Parmenter said. “But as long as I’m watering I’m not going to be overly worried about it.”

Dear Action Line: While you’re talking snow removal, can you tell me whether it’s OK to shovel snow out into the street? – Someone Pretending to Not Be Action Line

Dear Someone: Whoever you are, why are you causing problems? Answering this will incite the wrath of just about everyone who uses this time-honored practice. Action Line bugged Somsen again.

“Boy, do we all want summer back or what,” Somsen replied just after the snow had stopped in early January. “After about two weeks of snow, I have had more than a few requests to make it go away.”

Again, we’re talking about playing hot potato with snowfall. The city plows snow off the street, and the good citizens push some of it back onto the street.

Durango city code, section 21-38, says that “no person shall deposit or cause to be deposited in any public street, alley or roadway in the city, snow taken or removed from property privately owned or occupied, excluding snow taken or removed from public sidewalks.”

In other words, no it isn’t OK unless the snow is on a public sidewalk. The city is trying to keep streets clear as well as protect the asphalt from breaking down and developing potholes.

“We ask that residents who do not want the free water for their yard, to shovel this snow into the gutter line and not into the street for this reason,” Somsen said. “Making the asphalt last as long as it can saves taxpayers money. Shoveling snow into the street also can cause a hazard to vehicles that are not expecting the mess and cause a traffic accident.”

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Here’s hoping we have more occasions to bicker over where to put unwanted snow.

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