There’s a fungus among us: Mold strikes a third Illinois post office

August 7, 2013

On Monday two post offices in Illinois, Alorton and Cahokia, were closed by emergency suspension because mold was discovered in the building.  Now a third Illinois facility has been hit.  On Tuesday the Dupo post office was also closed after an inspection discover mold in the heating and cooling system.

It’s not clear at this time if the mold is spreading, and if so, how.  Dupo and Cahokia are near East St. Louis, and they’re just a few miles apart; Alorton is 180 miles away in central Illinois.  Maybe the hot, humid weather is causing the problems. 

Customers are angry that the post offices closed without warning and they now have to travel to other post offices to get their mail.  For some of them, it means a long trek to East St. Louis on public transportation.

Alorton Mayor JoAnn Reed is doubly disturbed.  As mayor, she’s concerned that citizens won’t be able to get their mail. 

"Alorton is one of the poorest communities in the state of Illinois,” Reed told the Belleville News-Democrat.  “The folks here don't have a way or the means to go to East St. Louis or Fairview Heights ... to get their mail."

Mayor Alorton is upset for another reason.  The Village of Alorton owns the building where the post office is located, so she’s basically the Postal Service’s landlord.

"They are our tenants. We were not told anything about this. If there were problems, you have to make your requests known. We were given no opportunity to comply with any maintenance concerns.”

The mayor thinks that the Postal Service wants to close the post office, and this was an easy way to accomplish that.  “I think they did it this way because they want to avoid a fight with the citizens,” said Reed. “But it won't be avoided here."

The Senate does postal reform: Highlights and low points of the Carper-Coburn bill

August 3, 2013

Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have introduced their version of postal reform legislation, the Postal Reform Act of 2013, a.k.a. PRA and S.1486.  A summary is here, and the whole bill is here.

The new bill contains several changes from the earlier Senate bill, S.1789, that should bring the House and Senate closer together and make the passage of legislation more likely.  In that sense, there’s been some progress, but unfortunately, it’s mostly in the wrong direction.


Comparing S.1789 and the PRA

A look at the earlier S.1789 and the new S.1486 suggests that several changes have been made to align the Senate bill with Issa's bill in the House.  Here are a few of them:

S.1789 had a section (201) that would have maintained overnight delivery standards for three years, which would have prevented the closure of many processing plants.  The PRA has deleted that section.

S.1789 had a section (203) that would have established retail service standards to help guarantee access to a post office.  One such standard, for example, would have put a limit on how far and how long you should need to travel to your post office.  That provision has been removed from the PRA.

The earlier bill had a section that would have helped protect historic post office buildings by giving federal, state, and local governments the opportunity to lease excess space rather than seeing the Postal Service close the post office and sell the building.  That section has also been deleted from S.1486.

Section 207 of S.1789, on “delivery point modernization,” would have authorized the Postal Service to convert how you get your mail — at the door, curbside, or centralized cluster box — even without your permission (which is now required).  The new PRA has a similar section.  But S.1789 said only that the Postal Service “may” change your mode of delivery.  The new bill requires the Postal Service to change your mode of delivery to the one “that is most cost-effective and is in the best long-term interest of the Postal Service.”  That’s much closer to Issa’s bill, which mandates 30 million conversions to save $4 billion.

The earlier Senate bill would have maintained Saturday delivery for two years.  S.1486 maintains it for just one year, and then in the second year permits the Postal Service to switch over to delivering just packages on Saturday.  In the third year, Saturday delivery could be ended completely.


Going, going, gone: Historic post offices on the GSA's auction block

August 1, 2013

When journalists ask the Postal Service which post offices might be sold, they’re typically referred to the USPS-CBRE website, as if it represents a complete list.  But there are other post offices for sale, and a few of them are currently listed on the GSA auction site

Apparently, selling these properties didn’t turn out to be the boon the Postal Service may have once expected.  Now that efforts to sell them at anywhere near the asking price have been unsuccessful, the Postal Service has turned them over to the General Services Administration for auction.  Instead of the asking price, the Postal Service will take what it can get.

Today there are about a dozen USPS properties being sold by GSA.  According to postal official Peter Nowacki, nineteen properties, most of them east of the Mississippi, will be auctioned off through the GSA in the near future.

Three of those currently on the GSA auction block are historic buildings — Yankton, South Dakota; LaFollette, Tennessee; and Charleston, Illinois;.


Yankton, South Dakota

The former Yankton post office at 335 Walnut Street was constructed in 1905, with an addition in the 1950’s. It is one of twenty landmark structures in downtown Yankton, and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Postal Service closed the post office in January 2012, and postal operations were consolidated into an annex, two miles from the downtown location of the old post office.  The Postal Service never did a discontinuance study on Yankton because it considered the closure a “relocation.”

The new post office in the annex has been a hardship for a lot of customers and an added expense for many small businesses, including Yankton Media, which used to be able to walk next door to the post office and now must send someone on a time-consuming errand.

According to the Invitation for Bids, the building comes with a Historic Preservation Covenant agreed to by the Postal Service and the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Officer.  The covenant requires the new owner to get permission from the SHPO before doing any construction, alteration, and remodeling. 

That may be putting a damper on the sale.  When the building was initially listed on the USPS-CBRE website, the asking price was $395,000 (it’s no longer on the site since the sale is now the GSA’s problem).  The starting bid is now $75,000. 

Berkeley mayor files appeal with the PRC to stop the closure and sale of his city’s historic post office

July 31, 2013

Tom Bates, the Mayor of Berkeley, California, has written a letter to Ruth Goldway, Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, informing the PRC that he is “personally appealing the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office because this transaction is not a relocation of services, it is in fact a sale of the historic building.”

Mayor Bates notes that the Postal Service is calling the closure and sale of the post office a “relocation” without even identifying the new location.  According to the mayor, “there is no suitable location in area code 94704 to which to move retail services.”

As for the Postal Service’s statement that it’s possible they would lease back space in the building and keep a post office there, the mayor writes, “This is playing semantic games with the public trust and contributes to public distrust of government.”

“If the Postal Service has a place to relocate the retail postal service other than 2000 Alston Way (its current location),” says the mayor, “it should be required to make it known prior to moving ahead with a scam relocation.”

The Postal Service will inevitably file a Motion to Dismiss the mayor’s appeal, as it did recently on the appeal of the Bronx GPO closure, on the grounds that relocation decisions are outside the jurisdiction of the Commission. That motion is still before the Commission.

Mayor Bates has been trying everything to stop the sale of his city's historic post office.  He wrote directly to the Postmaster General, and got this unsatisfactory reply, basically saying, "Sorry, there's nothing I can do about it."   Mayor Bates also wrote to 54 mayors across the country who are facing similar closures of historic post offices.  The mayor and the city council also filed an appeal on the relocation decision with USPS Vice President, Facilities, Mr. Tom Samra, and that got nowhere either.  Whether the PRC appeal will fare any better remains to be seen.    

(Photo credits: Berkeley's Mayor Bates)

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