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Shaw Island struck by postal budget blues

The U.S. Postal Service expects to save more than $500,000,000 a year by shutting down or cutting hours at about 13,000 post offices across the nation, mostly in rural locations.

Like on Shaw Island, where residents are not happy to find out they’re part of the plan.

And, perhaps even less so to realize their input on options about service-reductions, requested by the Postal Service, proved to be a meaningless exercise.

Less than 24 hours after a pair of postal service employees attended a community meeting July 31 on Shaw, presumably to discuss results of the service-reduction survey, a notice appeared on a post office wall informing islanders that daily office hours would be reduced from eight to four.

“All they really had to say or could tell us was ‘We don’t know,’ and that really ticked people off,” Shaw Islanders, Inc. President Diana Wisen said of the two Postal emissaries sent to the meeting. “We knew they weren’t ‘decision-makers’ and sensed that a decision had already been made. People were angry, and I do mean angry.”

The Shaw Island post office is not alone. Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson said daily hours at the Deer Harbor and Waldron offices have already been reduced to six and that the operating hours of Orcas Island’s Olga office is due to be reduced to four. In Washington state, Swanson said roughly 200 offices are on the postal service’s “POST plan” list and about 80 percent of those already have taken a cut in hours.

“Generally it is the smaller, rural post offices that are part of the plan,” he said. “Most people would prefer no change, but usually, given the options, reduced hours is what’s preferred.”

The postal service has lost “huge quantities” of revenue over the last few years, Swanson said, in large part due to the combination of growing reliance on digital communication and steady decline in of first-class mail, the longtime postal service “bread and butter.”

Whether the cut in hours at Shaw’s post office is a “done deal” remains to be seen. Residents have sought and enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Bellingham, to advocate on their behalf. Wisen noted that reducing office hours to six a day was not among the four options included on the service-reduction survey circulated on Shaw.

In a Aug. 7 letter to Post Master General Patrick Donaho, Larsen called on the Postal Service to classify the Shaw Island post office as a “Part-Time Post Office,” a designation under which the office would be allowed to operate six hours a day.

“Part-Time Post Offices are the standard for offices in similarly situated remote island communities,” Larsen said in the letter. “In official correspondence with my staff with respect to the post office located on Waldron Island, in October of 2012, your representative explained that under the Post Plan, the USPS operations team has determined that offices ‘that are on islands and have limited transportation services to the mainland…will have their retail hours adjusted to being open six hours per day.’.”

It’s much more than a matter of convenience, Wisen said about the hours of operation of the island post office. Many of residents, the elderly in particular, receive medication through the mail, some of which is refrigerated and timely pickup is paramount. Moreover, she said a reduction to four hours would mean that the postal service would attempt to replace the Shaw postmaster with a contract-employee that would be paid $11 an hour.

“Who would they get to do that?” she said. “People here make $20 an hour making beds or cleaning toilets.”

Moreover, she said that many post offices where hours have been reduced are in areas where people can drive to another post office, like on Orcas. That’s not an option on Shaw.

“We don’t have another post office and we don’t have a way to get to one, other than paying $26 for a ferry ticket.”

 

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