Post Office Stories

Investigating the Emergency Suspensions

June 7, 2011

Although an "emergency suspension" is supposed to close a post office temporarily, just until the circumstances can be corrected, once a post is suspended, it rarely opens again.  Back in 1997, a General Accounting Office study found that of the 651 post offices that had been suspended over the previous five years, only 31 had re-opened. 

Some people think that the post offices currently being suspended will also never re-open, and that the Postal Service is purposely manipulating situations to create “emergencies” justifying suspensions.  There's reason to think so.

In 2009, the post office in Hacker Valley, West Virginia, was suspended when the lease expired.  But according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Postal Service knew three years earlier that the lease would not be renewed and it failed to secure a new location.  Town residents and a lumber company even offered to  build a new post office for the USPS to lease, using donated land, materials and labor.  As NPR reported, "At first, it seemed the Postal Service was interested, but soon the phone calls from Hacker Valley were going unreturned."  The town appealed to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which issued a determination sharply criticizing the USPS for the way the suspension was conducted.   The PRC also found, based upon the USPS suspension track record, "history strongly suggests that the Postal Service is using its suspension authority to avoid the explicit Congressional instructions to hear and consider the concerns of patrons before closing post offices.”

The Postal Regulatory Commission is currently near completion of a broader investigation into the matter of "emergency suspensions."  As the Wall Street Journal reported in January, the PRC is investigating “whether the postal service has been improperly using reasons such as lease expirations to suspend service and to close many small, rural post offices.”  The PRC has been reviewing more than 400 post offices where service was suspended in recent years to determine whether the suspensions were in fact illegal “de facto closings.” PRC spokesman Norman Scherstrom noted that in many cases, the Postal Service declared emergency suspensions based on expiring leases, and the post offices never reopened.  “A lease generally has a contract and a date where you can expect it will end," said Scherstrom.  "For that to turn into an emergency seems odd."  According to the WSJ, "The postal service has denied wrongdoing."

In March USPS tried to stop the PRC from releasing a list of suspended post offices it had produced at the PRC's request.  It contained 356 offices and branches, 45 of which were suspended in 2010, and 97 of which were suspended for lease problems.  Despite USPS's argument that the releasing it would cause confusion and "unnecessary concern," the list was made public. 

The PRC investigation is on-going and the results should be known soon.  In the meantime, many continue to wonder, is the Postal Service manufacturing emergencies and closing post offices without due process?

(Photo credit: Hacker Valley po)

Trying to stay calm and collected in Plover

June 5, 2011

Plover, Iowa, sits in Powhattan Township, which was first settled in 1864. The township name honors the father of Pocahontas.  Plover got its first post office in the early 1870s.  A meeting is set for June 8 to talk with a USPS representative about closing the post office. 

As reported in The Messenger, one town resident is fighting to keep her post office.  Darla Johnson's father was postmaster in Plover for 20 years, and she spent much of her childhood at the post office.  "So it's almost like home," Johnson said. "I'm upset about that, but there again, there's probably nothing I can do." 

Johnson is writing letters to lawmakers and organizing a petition drive, but she's not optimistic about the meeting—she thinks it's just for appearances.  "The community right now is feeling a little bit overwhelmed because we don't have any answers," Johnson said. "We're not very happy about the whole situation. Other than that, we're trying to stay somewhat calm and collected."

For more on post office closings in Iowa, check out this excellent story by Kyle Muson in the DesMoines Register, along with this great gallery of photos.  It's enough to make you weep.

Pictured to the right, the post office in Thayer, Iowa, population 59, postal service established Feb. 19, 1869.

(Photo credit: Plover p.o.; Luther p.o.)


People are pretty upset in Freedom, WY

June 5, 2011

Freedom is a small hamlet in Wyoming, population 214.  It sits on the stateline with Idaho, and, according to Wikipedia, "the community was settled as a border town by Mormon polygamists in order to escape arrest for polygamy: they could be free from Idaho police simply by walking into Wyoming. The community was named for the freedom it gave these early settlers."  Today Freedom is the home of Freedom Arms, a firearms manufacturer known for producing powerful handguns.

Freedom is the oldest community in Wyoming's Star Valley, and some of the its old buildings still stand.  One of them is the post office.  The hamlet has been notified that it's on the list, along with four others, of post offices being studied for closure.  They had a town meeting on Thursday, and the Officer in Charge manning the post office said, "People are pretty upset about it."

One of the other towns on the closure list is Bairoil, population 97, named after sheep rancher Charles M. Bair, the first to drill oil in this area and after whom the town is named. The post office was established in 1924.  The nearest post office is 45 miles away.

(Photo credit: Freedom p.o.; Bairoil p.o.)

Sorting through the Closings

June 4, 2011

The past week has seen many more closing announcements.  Here are a few of the stories in the news:

KWTX TV reports that more than 70 residents of the town of Leroy, Texas, turned out for a meeting to support their post office.  They signed petitions and were encouraged to write letters to their lawmakers.  “If the post office closes, a centrally located box known as a Neighborhood Delivery Box and Collection Unit or NDCBU will be installed.”  Several other rural post offices in central Texas —Purmela, Prairie Hill, Reagan and Avalon—are also on the closure list.

News Channel 34 in Binghamton, New York, reports that “residents and city officials are making a last ditch effort to convince the US Postal Service not to close 3 neighborhood post offices in the city.”  That would leave only the downtown office open.  City Council Member Teri Rennia says the West Side has a higher population of elderly and low-income residents who have a difficult time getting downtown.  "A walkable community is incredibly important for environmental reasons, for economic reasons and also to make sure folks who don't have access to transportation still have equal access to these basic services."  Watch the video.

NV Daily reports that the town of Star Tannery, Virginia, had a community meeting to tell USPS officials that it was wrong to close their post office.  More than 65 people attended, and they’ve started a letter writing campaign to their lawmakers.  The sixty-day comment periods ends June 20.  The nearest post office is 11 miles away.  Local politician Dennis Morris attended the meeting: “"It's convenience and it's tradition," he said. "They want to keep their identity back there."

Eleven New Mexico post offices are on the chopping block, reports KRQE News 13. "This may sound old fashioned and silly,” said Shelley Rains, a resident of the town of Holman, NM, in the northeastern part of the state. “We’re a community, and a community always has a post office. It’s a center.”  The other communities that might lose their post offices are Capulin, Cuervo, Coyote, Encino, Gladstone, La Loma, Saint Vrain, Trementina, Mills, and Fort Stanton. “Maybe our opinions, our enthusiasm, our need will make a difference,” Rains said. “Maybe it won’t. But if you do not fight, you can never win.”  (Watch the video, and check out the Save Our Post Office website Holman citizens have put together.)

The post office in downtown Canton, Georgia, will close, reports the Cherokee Tribune.
“Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood lamented the news. . . .  Retaining the post office’s presence downtown, he said, is ‘vital’ to the city’s efforts to reenergize the central business district.”

The City Council in Waterville, Ohio, unanimously approved a resolution requesting the U.S. Postal Service to maintain a full service post office in the city, reports the Toledo Blade. Two weeks ago the postal service said a temporary emergency suspension would close the city's post office and operations would be shifted to the Maumee Post Office. The postal service was unable to reach a lease agreement with the owner of the building on South Third Street in the community's downtown business district, where the post office has been housed for fifty years. Mayor Derek Merrin said that a lease had been signed, so the closing has been averted, at least for now.

(Photo credits: Star Tannery p.o.; Binghamton p.o.; Leroy p.o.; Holman p.o.; Canton p.o.; Waterville, p.o.)

Manufacturing Emergency: Stories of Post Office Suspensions

June 2, 2011

It can take months for the USPS to go through the bureaucratic process of closing a post office, but under the law's provision for an "emergency suspension," the USPS can shutter a post office in as little as 24 hours.  According to the Postal Operations Manual (download pdf), these suspensions are supposed to be temporary closings for unusual circumstances—a natural disaster, a lease termination when other suitable quarters are not available, lack of qualified personnel to run the post office, a severe health or safety hazard in the work environment, and severe damage to the postal building.  If past history is any indication, a post office closed for an emergency suspension will probably never re-open.  Here are a few of the stories in the news.

In Nooksack, Washington, the post office was closed for retail business on Friday, May 27, and p.o. boxes moved to another post office over the Memorial Day weekend.  According to the The Bellangham Herald, Postal Service spokeman Ernie Swanson explained that this was an “emergency suspension” because the lease for the building was up at the end of May.  The Postal Service will gather input from citizens through mid-July, and “officials in Seattle will make a recommendation to Postal Service headquarters on whether to renew the lease on the building or keep the location closed.” 

In Calumet, Pennsylvania, on May 31, residents were given 48 hours notice that the Postal Service was closing the post office as an “emergency suspension” because of “unspecified building problems that could jeopardize the safety of employees,” reports Trib Live.  The owner of the building is the Calumet Volunteer Fire Department. Residents will need to change their addresses and seek boxes at other post offices or install mailboxes at their homes.

On Monday, May 9, residents of Coatsburg, Illinois, were given 24-hours notice that their post office was closing because of a “lack of qualified personnel to operate this office.”  According to the Quincy News, the post office was being operated by an Officer in Charge rather than a regular postmaster, and this person took another job on short notice. Valerie Welsch, spokesperson with the Postal Service, explained, “We couldn’t give a huge notice because we just didn’t have anyone to fill in there, it is an emergency suspension of services.”  The Coatsburg post office was already on the closure list announced earlier in the spring, and public hearings had taken place. “This emergency suspension had nothing to do with that study,” said Welsch.

In Caledonia, New York, near Buffalo, representatives of the Postal Service met last week with residents to discuss the “emergency suspension” of their post office that took back in November 2010 when the USPS was unable to secure a renewal of the lease.  As reported in the Livingston County News, people aren't buying the lease story. They pointed to several vacant buildings in the business district and asked if the USPS had considered them.  The mayor of the town produced an email letter from the owner of the building stating that he tried to negotiate an equitable agreement with the USPS and that his company even offered to lower the rent in an effort to keep the post office in the property.  

The post office in Tariffville, Connecticut, was closed back in January for an emergency suspension because of concerns about the structural integrity of the building after heavy snowfall forced an evacuation.  The building has housed the post office for more than fifty years (photo at the top).  As the Simsbury Patch reported, shortly after the suspension, the company that manages the building said that the problems had been repaired and the post office should be open for business “tomorrow”—that was over four months ago.  Citizens complained to the Postal Service that the building was declared safe after just two days and other tenants returned, but the USPS had "quickly removed the PO boxes and office equipment instead of returning."  A study is now underway to determine whether or not the post office should be "continued."

(Photo credits: Tariffville p.o. (at the top); Noosak p.o.; Coatsburg p.o.; Caledonia p.o.)

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