Only months after taking over garbage collection, the city of St. Paul is gauging whether to bring another private service under its control: plowing alleys.
The city is partnering with the University of Minnesota to conduct an online survey about alley plowing. It’s open until May 3, and any St. Paul resident can participate, regardless of whether they live on an alley.
Unlike Minneapolis, where alley plowing is a city service, St. Paul has never plowed its alleys. It’s been up to residents to organize their neighbors, collect payments from each household and hire someone to do it for them.
“It’s sort of like selling Girl Scout Cookies — you have to make sure everybody pays up.” said Kate Mudge, a Hamline-Midway resident and executive director at the Hamline Midway Coalition. “It can be a bit of a fiasco, especially in years like this.”
St. Paul’s 330 miles of alleys vary from block to block and neighborhood to neighborhood. Some aren’t paved, some have steep inclines and some aren’t engineered for water drainage. Differences in how they’re plowed — if they’re plowed at all — have disrupted recycling and garbage collection.
Lynn Hoffman, co-president of Eureka Recycling, said the company would support the city taking over alley plowing. Eureka’s drivers have struggled to navigate alleys too icy or narrowed by snow to accommodate a recycling truck, she said.
“It would alleviate a lot of the issues if there was more systematic and consistent salting and plowing in the alleys,” she said.
The City Council requested the plowing survey, which is being paid for with $30,000 from the 2019 operating budget. In addition to the online survey, the city mailed paper surveys to a random list of 250 properties located on alleys, said Lisa Hiebert, a spokeswoman for St. Paul Public Works Department.
More than 3,500 people took the survey within the first 24 hours that it was live, Hiebert said.
The city has not yet made any decisions about whether to start plowing alleys, Hiebert said. Survey responses “will be really insightful for our policymakers,” she said. “This is an issue that we know that residents have strong opinions on both sides of whether or not the city should be involved.”
Snowplow drivers have strong opinions, too.
Lyle Mlenek of Wolf’s Lawn & Snow Services said it can be a headache for residents to coordinate and find someone to plow their alley every season, and he wouldn’t mind if the city took over — as long as they do it well.
“My street doesn’t hardly get plowed as it is,” said Mlenek, who lives on St. Paul’s East Side.
Where to put the snow?
David Miller, of Roseville-based Quality Snowplowing & Lawn Service, said he plowed St. Paul alleys about a decade ago but stopped. There was nowhere to drop the snow other than the street, he said, and residents would call to complain about the ridges of snow that built up on either side of the plow.
“I think the city would be able to do a better job than a snowplow person,” Miller said.
Tom Monson, owner of Monson Lawn & Landscaping and a Battle Creek neighborhood resident, said he’s plowed St. Paul alleys in the past, but this winter he turned down a few dozen calls from residents looking to hire him.
For every alley, there are about 40 customers who will call to complain when something goes wrong, he said, and the pay — $500 or so for a season — isn’t worth it.
“My only worry with the city taking over snowplowing is if it’s anything like the trash takeover has been, it’s just going to be a terrible headache,” Monson said.
To take the survey, visit bit.ly/2Zo3tfK.
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509