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Starting in April, last daily mail collection in Duluth will be 3:15 p.m.

(File / News Tribune)

Beginning in April, Northland residents will no longer be able to mail letters on their way home from a typical day's work and expect it to make the day's last collection.

The last mailbox collection time in Duluth will be 3:15 p.m., says a notice applied to the official blue mailbox outside Duluth's main post office at 2800 W. Michigan St.

Previously, the last collection time at that box — the latest in the area — was 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 7:45 p.m. on Saturdays.

The changeover takes place April 18.

Duluth's new daily collection deadline will now occur before the close of local United States Postal Service's business offices at 5 p.m.

"That's unusual for a (town like) Duluth," said Peter Nowacki, the USPS spokesperson in Minneapolis. "You wouldn't have seen this 20 years ago. But it's a different time. With the changes that have come with a decrease in first-class mail we just have to do things a different way."

Duluth's mail processing center is scheduled to begin the closure process the same day with mail sorting and processing being shifted to Eagan, Minn., south of St. Paul, Nowacki said.

Duluth's is one of up to 82 mail processing closures scheduled across the country in 2015. The closures are a part of a "network rationalization" that began in 2012 and was the result, the USPS said, of a 53 percent decline in first-class mail volume over the previous 10 years. First-class mail consists largely of personal correspondence, bill payments and greeting cards. The consolidation of mail processing across the country has led the USPS to adjust its previous one-day first-class mail delivery standard to two days locally and three days anywhere in the U.S.

Duluth processing center employee Kurt Waite has been one of the most vocal advocates of keeping Duluth's mail processing center open — joining a chorus that has included city and state politicians. With later collection times, Waite refuted the USPS's updated delivery standards.

"The post office wants to claim three days, but all the evidence is saying that's not the case," he said. "We've got reports taking up to four days average, and around five or six days, in some cases."

Waite said people living in places outside Duluth — "Floodwood, Alborn, Saginaw," he said — will need to get their letters mailed by 9 a.m.

"If it isn't in the mailbox by 9 a.m.," Waite said, "it's going to sit at the Duluth facility for a day until it gets picked up."

Nowacki said he couldn't say for certain how surrounding towns like Cloquet, Hermantown, Superior or the Iron Range will be affected, but he presumed their collection times will be moved up significantly, too.

The closing of the mail processing center in Duluth is expected to affect many of the plant's 78 employees. So far, it's known that 36 mail clerks will remain at the facility, but the remaining employees are expected to be transferred. Waite said none of the employees know where they'll be asked to move. Depending on the job, employees can't be transferred outside of either a 50- or 150-mile radius.

"I don't know the specifics of when they'll get any kind of notification," Nowacki said. "That's still something they're working with the unions on."

Daniel Fanning, Duluth's director of communication and policy, said the city was never in favor of the processing center's closure and is keeping a close eye on how changes will affect its mailings, including its ComfortSystems utility service bills.

"If we find the change in processing locations means a day or two delay in correspondence, we will adjust accordingly to ensure customers are not shortchanged," Fanning wrote the News Tribune.

Waite said there is still a strong movement to keep the mail processing center from closing, adding, "With enough pressure and enough voices this will be stopped."

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