Snowplowing Policy

2023/2024 Snow Season

1.   Introduction

The city of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, finds that it is in the best interest of the residents of the city to assume basic responsibility for control of snow and ice on city streets. Reasonable ice and snow control are necessary for routine travel and emergency services. The city will attempt to provide such control in a safe and cost-effective manner, keeping in mind safety, budget, personnel, and environmental concerns. The city will use city employees, equipment, and/or private contractors to provide this service. This policy does not relieve the operator of private vehicles, pedestrians, property owners, residents and all others that may be using public streets, of their responsibility to act in a reasonable, prudent and cautious manner, given the prevailing street conditions.

2.   Start Snow or Ice Control Operations

The Public Works Department is responsible for snow removal and ice control operations for all public streets, sidewalks, parking lots, alleys and trails. This will be accomplished utilizing all Public Works staff regardless of general areas of work to complete these responsibilities in a unified and efficient operation.

The Street Department Foreman will decide when to begin snow or ice control operations based on a scheduled starting time of 2:00 A.M. The criteria for that decision are:

  • A.  Snow accumulation of two (2) inches or more.
  • B.   Drifting of snow that causes problems for travel.
  • C.   Icy conditions which seriously affect travel; and
  • D.  Time of snowfall in relationship to heavy use of streets.

Snow and ice control operations are expensive and involve the use of limited personnel and equipment. Consequently, snowplowing operations on streets will not generally be conducted for snowfall of less than two (2) accumulative inches.

Snow or ice control operations for sidewalks and trails, and ice control for critical intersections will be completed without a minimum snow depth, even when snow conditions do not justify street plowing, based on a scheduled starting time of 5:00 A.M. The criteria for that decision are:

  • A.  Snow accumulation with no minimum depth
  • B.   Drifting of snow
  • C.   Icy conditions on sidewalks, trails, and critical intersections
  • D.  Opening of sidewalks filled in by street and avenue plowing operations

Scheduling overtime weekend work is determined by snow amounts, time of snowfall and financial considerations.

3.   How Snow will be Plowed

Snow will be plowed in a manner to minimize traffic obstructions. The center of the roadway will be plowed first. The snow shall then be pushed from left to right on two-way streets. On one-way streets or where there is a center boulevard, snow may be pushed in either direction. The discharge shall go onto the boulevard area of the street. Snow on cul-de-sacs will normally be plowed to the center to provide the largest turning radius possible for emergency vehicle ingress and egress. When a plow goes on a bridge, the driver shall slow down, so snow does not go over the bridge, if possible. In times of extreme snowfall, streets will not always immediately be able to be completely cleared of snow.

4.   Priorities and Schedule of Streets to be Plowed

During significant and severe storms, the city must be prepared to move personnel and equipment to maintain priority routes first. In fulfilling the need to have all priority streets safe and passable, when resources are limited, plowing of all other streets may be stopped at any time so resources can be shifted to priority routes.

Priority routes are high volume streets that connect major sections of the city and provide access for emergency fire, police, medical services, and schools. These are generally the Central Business Area and Priority 1 streets and avenues.

Unforeseeable circumstances may cause delays in completing assigned plow routes. Such circumstances may include weather conditions that endanger the safety of snowplow operators and/or safe and effective operation of equipment, commuter traffic, disabled vehicles, poor visibility conditions, parked cars along streets, assistance to emergency response vehicles, equipment breakdown, and personnel shortages.

The city has classified city streets based on the street function, traffic volume and importance to the welfare of the community. The first area plowed will be Central Business Area – This area is bordered by Fourth Street on the north, Knight Avenue on the west, First Street on the south, and the Canadian Pacific Railroad on the east (including LaBree Avenue east to the former hospital emergency entrance and the alley between Main Avenue and Knight Avenue from Zeh Street to First Street)

 The motor graders will plow the Central Business Area roadways first and then proceed to clean streets based on the following priorities (see attached map):

       Priority 1

      Atlantic Avenue, First Street, Barzen Avenue, Technology Street, Digi-Key Drive, Brooks Avenue, Pennington Avenue, Evergreen Street to Challenger Elementary School entrance road, Nora Street, Spruce Avenue, Greenwood Street, Arnold Avenue south of Third Street, Sixth Street, Davis Avenue, Edgewood Drive, frontage roads and the parking lot and roadway on the south side of the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

While the motor graders are plowing the Central Business Area and main arteries, two loaders will plow snow from the municipal parking lots as per the City’s calendar parking ordinance.  When the lots are cleaned, one loader with a snowplow will assist the motor graders and the other will plow alleys in the Central Business Area.

Priority 2

      At approximately 6:00 a.m., after the Central Business Area and main arteries are cleared, the two motor graders and two plow trucks will separate and clear the streets and avenues on either side of town (the east and the west sides of the river) based on the following schedule:

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday:  Avenues, including Red Lake Boulevard, Alice Drive, and Cottonwood Avenue

      Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday:  Streets, Courts, Cul-de-sacs, Drives and Lanes

Priority 3

      Once the Priority 1 and Priority 2 streets and/or avenues have been plowed of snow, the remainder of all roads in the city will be plowed and all township or county roads where executed agreements are in place.

      A tractor with v-plow or a pickup and snowplow will plow residential alleys and assist in the Central Business Area.

      After an unusually heavy snowfall, additional equipment will assist the two motor graders, plow trucks and loaders to open all City streets and avenues as soon as possible.

5.   Snow Removal

The Street/Sanitation/Park Foreman will determine if, and when snow will be removed from the area by truck. Such snow removal will occur in areas where there is no room on the boulevard for snow storage and in areas where accumulated piles of snow create a hazardous condition. Snow removal operations will not commence until other snowplowing operations have been completed. Snow removal operations may also be delayed depending on weather conditions, personnel, and budget availability. The snow will be removed and hauled to a snow storage area. The snow storage area will be located to minimize environmental problems.

      After completion of snow plowing, typically the second or third day if no additional snow events occur, snow removal will be scheduled in the Central Business Area and the MnDOT highway system using one loader with snow blower, two motor graders and four trucks starting at 2:00 a.m. Additional contract trucking will be utilized as required based on snow amounts.

Removal of snow piles from private and public businesses will be on a time available basis.

6.   Work Schedule for Snowplow Operators

Snowplow operators will be expected to work their assigned shifts. In severe snow emergencies, operators sometimes will be required to work longer shifts, but will be paid overtime in excess of 40 hours per week, or pursuant to any collective bargaining contract language.

7.   Traffic Regulations

The city recognizes that snowplow operators are exempt from traffic regulations set forth in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 169 while actually engaged in work on streets, except for regulations related to driving while impaired and the safety of school children. Pursuant to this authority, snowplow operators engaged in snow removal or ice control on city streets have discretion to disregard traffic laws set forth in Chapter 169, except for laws relating to impaired driving and school children safety, when in their judgment, it is safe to disregard such laws. The privileges granted herein to operators of snow removal and ice control vehicles shall apply only if the vehicle is equipped with one lighted lamp displaying a flashing, oscillating, or rotating amber light placed in such a position on the vehicle as to be visible throughout an arc of 360 degrees.

8.   Weather Conditions

Snow and ice control operations will be conducted only when weather conditions do not endanger the safety of snowplow operators and equipment. Factors that may delay snow and ice control operations include severe cold, significant winds, and limited visibility.

9.   Use of Sand, Salt, and Other Chemicals

The city will use sand, salt, and other chemicals when there are hazardous ice or slippery conditions. The city is concerned about the effect of such chemicals on the environment and will limit its use for that reason.

Anti-Icing techniques will be used prior to snow and ice events when appropriate with sanding operations in conjunction with snow plowing in the same priority order.

10. Sidewalks

The City will remove most of the snow from the following designated public sidewalks, sidewalks adjacent to city owned property and trails not designated as seasonal within 48 hours of a snowfall. It is the responsibility of the resident and/or property owner to remove all accumulated snow from all other sidewalks along public streets adjoining their property within 48 hours. The Central Business District bordered by First Street on the south, Fourth Street on the north, Knight Avenue on the west and Atlantic Avenue on the east, including Highway 59 (Third Street) from Atlantic Avenue to Duluth Avenue and Highway 32 (Main Avenue) from Zeh Street to Fourth Street, require snow to be removed from sidewalks in 24 hours. Reoccurring snow and wind events will extend the 24-hour or 48-hour timelines for the event. This includes any snow plowed from public streets onto the sidewalk. The list of these sidewalks and trails is as follows (see attached map):

  • Falls Liquor, City Hall, former HDR Building, former ITS Building, Fire Department, Public Library, Carnegie Library (includes parking lots at these facilities)
  • Old Arena and former City Auditorium as per lease with Pennington County
  • Municipal Lot #4, Floyd B. Olson Park
  • Sidewalks adjacent to Ralph Engelstad Arena and Huck Olson Arena
  • The north side of First Street from Main Avenue to Pennington Avenue
  • River Walk from First Street to Sioux Street
  • The north side of First Street from Pennington Avenue to Crocker Avenue
  • The west side of Crocker Avenue from First Street to Mussey Street
  • The south side of First Street from Crocker Avenue to Highway 59
  • The east side of Spruce Avenue from Gulf Street to Highway 59
  • The north side of Highway 59 from First Street to Atlantic Avenue
  • The south side of Highway 59 from Davis Avenue to Spruce Avenue
  • Veterans’ Garden
  • The north side of Eighth Street from Main Avenue to Oak Avenue
  • The north side of Greenwood Street from Oakland Park Road to Columbia Avenue
  • The south side of Greenwood Street from Oakland Park Road to Barzen Avenue
  • The south side of Greenwood Street from Columbia Avenue to Pennington Avenue
  • The north side of Greenwood Street from Pennington Avenue to Kendall Avenue
  • Pedestrian Crosswalk Landings at Greenwood Street and Spruce Avenue
  • The west side of Pennington Avenue from Greenwood Street to Evergreen Street
  • The south side of Evergreen Street from Pennington Avenue to Cherry Road
  • Sidewalk from Cherry Road to Apple Tree Court

Residents are obligated to clear the balance of remaining snow from the above sidewalks adjacent to private properties within 48 hours of the snowfall, according to City ordinance.

Note: Arena sidewalks will be cleared of snow by Venuworks staff or their contractor. Arena parking lots will be cleared by the City Public Works Department in the following order:

  1. South Lot – Priority 1 plowed w/streets following snow event. All arena parking to use this lot.
  2. East Lot – No parking 2:00 A.M. until noon every day during calendar parking or as events require.
  3. Midway Lot – No restrictions plow Priority 3
  4. West Lot – No restrictions plow Priority 3
  5. Curling Club Lot – No restrictions plow Priority 3

11. Mailboxes

Damage to a mailbox is a risk that snowplow operators face during their winter plowing requirements. The city will conduct a review of each mailbox damage claim to determine whether the city has any legal responsibility for the damage and, if so, to replace or provide reimbursement for the mailbox. If the city, in its discretion, determines that reimbursement or replacement is appropriate, the city may:

  1. At the mailbox owner’s request, replace the mailbox with a standard size, non-decorative metal mailbox and replace the support post as necessary with a swing away metal support post, both which will be installed by the city.
  2. Provide reimbursement in a reasonable amount for the mailbox and support posts that meet the city’s ordinance standards, as well as state and federal requirements for mailbox size, support, and placement.

12. Complaint Procedure

Complaints will be recorded on telephone logs. Calls requiring service will be transferred to a work request and forwarded to the appropriate foreman for scheduling. Emergency complaints will be handled in an expeditious manner as resources are available.

13. Deviation from Policy

The Street/Sanitation/Park Foreman may deviate from this policy when in his or her judgment it is in the best interest of the city or is necessary because of budget needs or other circumstances. Changes in priorities (lasting more than 4 hours) will be documented as to what caused such actions, why the change was necessary, and for how long the change is to be in effect. Those city employees and/or contractors affected will be notified immediately by radio or cell phone of such changes with all communications logged. Information logged will include the time and date of the communication, name of employee contacted, and how they were contacted. Any changes of priorities lasting more than 24 hours should be made in a written record and the public should be informed of such changes through normal methods used by the city for emergency notifications.

14. Review and Modification of Policy

The Public Works Director shall keep on file all comments and complaints received regarding this policy. The policy will be reviewed periodically. Any review will consider comments and complaints since the last review and any other factors affecting the policy or its implementation.

15. Deviation from Policy

The Street/Sanitation/Park Foreman under the direction of the Public Works Director, shall be responsible for the City’s snow removal and shall use their best judgement in directing snow and ice control operations. The decisions shall be based on the best interest of the City with due regard for safety of the operators, notification from law enforcement, traveling public, capabilities of the equipment, and budget constraints.

16. Snow Emergency


For purposes of this section, the term "snow emergency" means a condition created on city streets because of the presence of snow, freezing rain, sleet or ice thereon or other natural phenomenon which create or are likely to create undue hazardous road conditions or are likely to unduly impede the free movement of fire, health, police, emergency or other vehicular traffic, when the same has been duly declared.

 Declaration of Snow Emergency

Whenever in the opinion of the Public Works Director in consultation with the Public Works Committee Chair or the Mayor, that a snow emergency exists, he or she may declare the same and cause an announcement thereof to be made to local news media and by any other means available to the city.

 Beginning and Duration of Snow Emergency

A public announcement will be made a minimum of one hour prior to the implementation of a snow emergency. Once declared, the emergency shall remain in effect until all streets are completely plowed or the declaration is cancelled; provided that, the snow emergency may, in the same manner, be re-declared for subsequent like periods of time.

Execution of Emergency Operations

The emergency declaration would uphold calendar parking for that day and recommend cars be removed from all streets or avenues until after that street or avenue is plowed. As a minimum the center of the street or avenue where cars are allowed to park will be plowed. The city would utilize labor normally assigned to sanitation services, so there would be no garbage pick up the day of the emergency. Other city services or facilities may be unavailable during the snow emergency to utilize staff and prioritize snow removal areas. The Ralph Engelstad Arena, Huck Olson Arena and all outdoor skating rinks will be closed the day or days of the snow emergency. The Electric Department will provide two employees with snow removal equipment to assist as needed.

Unlawful Acts

      a. During a snow emergency, it is unlawful to park or leave standing any vehicle upon any city roadway as per the terms of calendar parking.

     b. A person who violates this section is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.


     This section shall not apply to:

      a. Persons in charge of wreckers or authorized emergency vehicles while actively servicing mechanical, fire, police, or medical emergencies; or

      b. Any street when it has been fully and completely (curb-to-curb) cleared, sanded, salted, or cleaned.


Any police officer may order the removal of a vehicle from a street to a garage or other place of safety when the vehicle is left unattended and constitutes an obstruction to traffic or hinders snow removal, street improvements or maintenance operations. The vehicle shall not be released until the fees for towing and storage are paid in addition to any fine imposed for violation of this policy.

Rules and Regulations

Rules and regulations relating to snow removal shall be in accordance with the policy adopted by the City Council. The regulations shall be posted in the office of the City Administrator and Public Works Department and further notice may otherwise be given as the Council may direct.

     “In the event of equipment failure, extreme snowfall, dangerous conditions, or other unanticipated events including labor shortage, the necessity of resting snowplow crews, etc., deviation from these standards may be appropriate”