Postal Service Moves Forward on Area Closures

Flathead Beacon

by Justin Franz

The writing is on the wall, literally, at post offices in Dixon, Elmo, Stryker and Olney, which have been deemed expendable by the U.S. Postal Service as it looks to make significant cuts across the country.

The small retail offices in Northwest Montana are four of 69 in the state that received proposals of closure late last month. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is pushing legislation through Congress to keep them open.

According to USPS spokesperson Pete Nowacki, the proposals were posted in each office between Sept. 16 and 19 and must be displayed for 60 days to allow time for public comment. The offices were among 85 statewide that were studied for possible closure in late July. The Montana outposts join almost 3,700 offices nationwide that could be closed. Nowacki said even if only 69 offices have received notices, that doesn't mean the others are safe.

“They are all in different stages in the process and unless we make an announcement otherwise, they are all still under consideration,” he said.

Since July, public meetings have been held and customers questioned as to how they used their local post office. After that information was reviewed, proposals of closure were issued and more comments have been solicited. That information will then be sent to postal headquarters where a final decision is made. If a final proposal of closure is issued, any customer can file an appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which then has 120 days to review it. The Postal Regulatory Commission is an independent agency that oversees Postal Service operations and was created following the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.

Nowacki said no office could close within 60 days of the final determination being posted, meaning any closures wouldn't happen until next year.

“A final decision on closure hasn't been made and probably won't be made until early December,” Nowacki said of the four post offices being looked at in the area.

Nowacki said if all 3,700 post offices listed earlier in the summer were closed, it would save the Postal Service $200 million annually.

Meanwhile, Tester joined lawmakers from Kansas, Oregon and Alaska in crafting the Protecting Rural Post Offices Act of 2011 last week. The bill, which is currently in committee, would forbid the Postal Service from closing any retail office that isn't within 10 miles of another.

“In Montana and across rural America, post offices define communities and serve as lifelines to the rest of the world,” Tester said in a press release. “If post offices are shut down, entire communities will lose their identities and many of them will disappear. We must put sideboards on the Postal Service to prevent closures from disproportionately hurting rural and frontier America.”

According to the press release, of the 85 offices slated for possible closure in Montana, 54 do not have another retail office within 10 miles. Under the bill, Dixon, Olney and Stryker would all remain open. The retail office in Elmo is within 10 miles of offices in Dayton and Big Arm.

Andrea Helling, spokesperson for Tester, said the senator was watching the situation closely and pushing the legislation forward as quickly as possible.