BELFAST, Maine — A U.S. Post Office official said Monday that four rural post offices in Maine have been taken off the agency’s possible closure list, after a review indicated that customers there wouldn’t have “regular and effective” service if they were shut down.
The branches at West Forks, Stoneham, Topsfield and Matinicus will remain open, Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the USPS in Northern New England, confirmed.
“That’s an encouraging thing to hear,” said Eva Murray, a year-round resident of Matinicus Island. “It’s extremely important, because it’s not just about mail. It’s closely connected to the ability to do business out here, to maintain boats and homes and the power company out here. People who think of the post office as just a place to mail a postcard aren’t looking at the whole picture.”
But even with the four branches taken off the list, 30 primarily rural post offices in Maine are still on it. This summer, the postal service announced that it would study closing about 3,700 of its branches across the country, including the 34 in Maine.
The service is also studying the feasibility of folding operations now handled at its Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility in Hampden into the Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough.
The agency currently has almost 32,000 retail offices across the nation. The plan would save an estimated $200 million.
Rizzo said Monday that the service just registered a $5.1 billion loss for the 2011 fiscal year. The sum “could easily double,” he said, because the U.S. Congress has postponed a congressionally-mandated $5.5 billion payment that comes due in December.
“The postal service has multibillion losses,” Rizzo said. “There’s no doubt we’re going to be closing some offices.”
Sara Bradford of Stockton Springs said Monday that she hopes the branch in the village of Sandy Point won’t be among them. The town selectperson said the village has had a post office since June 1794, making it one of the oldest in the nation.
“The people in this area are really hoping that it will not happen,” she said of the proposed closure. “A lot of them are elderly. Some of them don’t have vehicles. Walking to the post office is one of the things they can do.”
Resident Mike Davis wrote in a letter to the postal service that the Sandy Point post office serves the village in a way that the post office in Stockton Springs, located four miles away on busy U.S. Route 1, cannot.
“For more than 215 years the post office has served as a focal point for this community,” he wrote. “I am recently retired, and one of the benefits of living in Sandy Point is the accessibility of our post office and the use of the box there. My wife and I make frequent, short trips out of state, and we know our mail is secure at the post office until it is convenient for us to pick it up.”
About 30 residents of Sandy Point and others interested in the fate of its post office attended a meeting last week held at the Stockton Springs town hall by representatives from the U.S. Postal Service.
“They had a lot of questions. Nobody who was there expressed support for the closing of the post office,” Bradford said. “They had a lot of questions about why? What value it would be.”
Residents believe that closing such small, rural post offices as the one in Sandy Point — which is open about four hours a day, six days a week — won’t fix the postal service’s debt problem.
“There were a lot of real strong emotions about why [they] are doing this to the small post offices,” she said.
U.S. Postal Service officials are busy holding such meetings all over the country, Rizzo said. The first phase of the closure study is to undergo public notification and public input, a 60-day period which is happening now. After that is completed, the results of the study, including the public input, will be evaluated. District officials in Portland will make recommendations as to which Maine branches should be closed, and those will be sent to the national headquarters of the postal service in Washington, D.C.
Within two weeks of that, the service will decide whether to go forward with the branch closures, and the decision will be posted at the local post offices, he said.
Those branches will be closed 60 days after notice has been posted locally, although anyone is able to appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which will then have up to four months to advise on the appeal.
Although the process of closing a post office branch is complicated, Rizzo said it could happen as quickly as two months following the end of the public comment period or as slowly as six months afterward. He wasn’t certain when the public comment period will close.
“All options for us are on the table, but we still welcome comments from all of our customers on these proposals, and they are all taken into serious consideration, before a decision is reached,” Rizzo said.
Comments about the proposed closures may be sent to Consumer and Industry Contact, U.S. Postal Service, 151 Forest Ave., Portland 04101 or emailed to email@example.com.