If you can hold your hand on there for 4 seconds, it's not really in the danger zone. I don't see why you can't drill the side plates, it seems like it would be pretty easy.
I'm not sure how much scoops would help, but it might be worth trying.
I would also recommend covering the holes with some kind of screen or something to keep the big chunks out. It's amazing how much magnetic crap kicks up from the road (I guess it's mostly rust that falls off cars).
Once upon a time, I saw some 'hole plugs' that were screen. Nice little round frame around the edge. I can't remember what they were for. Possibly something from the plumbing department.
"One test is worth a thousand opinions"