Battle of the berm |

Battle of the berm

Sarah Gonser

Snow falls heavily through the night.

Come morning, pristine, sparkling mounds of fresh powder cover every last branch, woodpile and post box.

Shovel in hand, the hardy South Shore resident takes a last sip of piping hot coffee and swings open the front door.

But a mere aluminum shovel and a few sips of strong coffee aren’t nearly enough to prepare even the toughest Tahoe Basin inhabitant for the gloriously large berm blocking the driveway.

It’s always a surprise – and never a particularly pleasant one.

The battle of the berm is nothing new to most Tahoe residents, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

“I nearly had a heart attack when I arrived here Tuesday,” said Gerda Canova, owner of Canova Realty at Cave Rock along U.S. Highway 50. “We could barely drive through this tiny space in front of the business. The berm was 6 to 8 feet high and 30 to 35 feet long. It was absolutely ridiculous.”

Berms inflame some residents, but they are par for the course in the snow plowing business – and as long as snow keeps falling and plows keep clearing it away, the icy mounds will remain a fact of life.

“Everywhere snow removal is being done across this country, you’re going to have complaints about berms,” said Scott Rogers, street superintendent for the city of South Lake Tahoe. “It’s part of life when you live in snow country.”

That doesn’t mean Rogers and his crew – and the state transportation departments – don’t go out of their way to mitigate the problem. By letting down cut-off gates, a plow operator can minimize the amount of snow pushed into driveways by the blades of the plow. And Nevada and California transportation department representatives say plow operators, once they’ve cleared the roads and if they have the time, re-trace their steps to clear berms from driveways. But regardless of all these efforts, residents are still solely responsible for their own driveways.

“It’s the property owners’ responsibility to clear their drives right up to the edge of the street,” Rogers said. “I think people place a great amount of expectation on those gates – and they do help reduce the berm – but they won’t make it go away.”

Rogers also explained that if snowfall is extremely heavy, the gates are less effective since they can only carry a certain amount of snow. The rest will inevitably slide around the side of the gate and block driveways.

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