Northland's rural post offices on closure list will stay open, but with hours cutMaybe it was the hundreds of signatures on the petition. Or the packed house for the public meeting, the huge oversized card and envelope sent with their comments, the banner hung across State Highway 23, or constant contact with state and federal legislators.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Maybe it was the hundreds of signatures on the petition. Or the packed house for the public meeting, the huge oversized card and envelope sent with their comments, the banner hung across State Highway 23, or constant contact with state and federal legislators.
It was that kind of passion found in Kerrick, 42 miles south of Duluth with a population of just 65, that led to the U.S. Postal Service decision to pull back on a plan to close that office along with 3,700 other small, rural post offices across the nation in a cost-saving measure.
The USPS announced Wednesday that instead of the closures it will cut hours. In Kerrick, it could mean four hours of operation a day compared to eight today.
The USPS made no mention of the status of offices within larger cities, including West Duluth, Lakeside and at the Civic Center.
“We’ve listened to our customers in rural America, and we’ve heard them loud and clear – they want to keep their post office open,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“I am so proud,” said Deb Stadin of Kerrick. “It’s a bummer, the four hours, but we’re open. They listened.”
Stadin said residents in and around Kerrick were worried but relentless in making it known how important it was keeping the post office in town. Stadin helped lead a popular revolt after the Postal Service announced last July that it would study a list of post offices for possible closure. Under the proposed plan, the nearest open office would have been 28 miles away.
“When it came out, there was a lot of negative feeling,” Stadin said.
The campaign was on. Stadin was amazed by the ideas that came out of her fellow residents and kept close watch on the issue. When she learned of the Postal Service’s decision late in the afternoon while closing up the town’s only bank, she had a small-town problem.
“There wasn’t anybody around to tell,” she said with a laugh.
“People like their post offices,” USPS regional spokesman Pete Nowacki said from Minneapolis. “It’s important to people. We heard that a lot.”
Along with Kerrick and nearby Bruno in Pine County, a smattering of Northland post offices in Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin were on the closure list. All will stay open, but with reduced hours, as is now the possible case with most rural post offices in the region.
A study of the new hours will take months, the Postal Service said, and 13,000 post offices could be affected. Postal employees will be asked to take buyouts in an effort to shed 21,000 of them in the next few years.
The status of Minnesota’s mail-processing centers, including the one in Duluth, remains in limbo despite a bill in Congress asking the USPS to reconsider closures.
Don Kinsey, who works at the Civic Center post office in downtown Duluth, said there won’t be a decision on his office and others like it until after Tuesday.
“We don’t know from day to day what’s going to happen,” he said of his fellow employees.
Should the three closures go through, Duluth would be left with post offices at Mount Royal off Woodland Avenue, at Miller Hill Mall and the main office in Lincoln Park.
Former letter carrier and Lakeside post office user Gaynelle Johnson would like some of that Kerrick magic to rub off. She said her fellow users also made an impression in public meetings with postal officials to discuss the possible closings.
“I know a lot of people who spoke out,” she said. “They were articulate and respectful.”
They told stories about how the loss of the Lakeside office would affect them, Johnson said.
“If you take away service, you can lose business,” she said.
Johnson said the Lakeside office makes enough money to merit its staying open.
“You go by there and Priority Mail is stacked up in the window,” she said.
Members of Congress wrote letters last week to Donahoe urging him to postpone closing any mail facility until Congress approves final postal overhaul legislation. The Senate last month passed a bill that would halt many of the closings; the House remains stalled over a separate bill allowing for aggressive cuts.
At the news briefing, Donahoe prodded Congress to act quickly on legislation that will allow the agency to move ahead with its broader multi-billion dollar cost-cutting effort and return to profitability by 2015.
The agency also will announce new changes next week involving its proposal to close up to 252 mail-processing centers. Facilities across Minnesota, including the one next to the main office in Lincoln Park, could be closed.
Under the plan, communities would get the option of keeping their area post offices open, but with reduced hours. Another option would be to close a post office in one area while keeping a nearby one open full time. Communities could opt to create a Village Post Office, one set up in a library, government office or store such as Walmart, Walgreens or Office Depot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.