Hampden postal facility key to service, economy

By Susan Collins,
Posted Jan. 10, 2012, at 6:14 p.m.

Creative Digital Imaging is a Bangor business that creates and delivers time-sensitive materials for medical providers, such as appointment notices and billing statements for hospitals throughout the country. It is one of the largest mailers north of Portland and provides well over $150,000 in business every week to the U.S. Postal Service.

The Hampden mail processing facility is essential to CDI’s operation, and its proposed closure by the postal service would force CDI to alter the way it does business and make serving its customers more difficult.

This small business is but one of many that rely on the postal service. In fact, the importance of the postal service to our economy cannot be underestimated. It operates at the center of a mailing industry that employs more than eight million people and generates almost $1 trillion in economic activity every year. Nearly 38,000 Mainers work in jobs related to the mailing industry, ranging from paper manufacturers to printers to catalog companies and newspapers.

There is no doubt that the postal service is in financial trouble and must change. But not all changes are wise ones. Its shortsighted strategy is evident in the postal service’s proposal to close its processing facility in Hampden. I expect business owners, mailers, community leaders, postal employees and neighbors to join me in making the case to keep this plant open during a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer.

The postal service doesn’t seem to fully appreciate how much its plan to close the Hampden plant would harm many Maine businesses, their customers and their employees. It would likely force businesses ranging from home delivery of medicines to newspapers to turn to other, nonpostal delivery options. Once these private firms leave the mail system, they won’t be coming back, and the postal service’s revenues will suffer yet another blow from which it might not recover.

Current law requires the postal service to provide, as nearly as practicable, the “entire population of the United States” with “adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reasonable rates.” This is called the universal mandate and ensures that the postal service cannot leave rural states or small towns behind.

But I fear that is just what will happen if the Hampden plant closes. The large size of our state makes it impossible for the postal service to serve the entire state efficiently with just one plant in Scarborough — a point I made to the postmaster general recently by showing him a map of Maine to illustrate our vast distances.

For example, if a resident of Fort Kent sends a card to a friend 10 miles away in the town of Wallagrass, today this letter travels to the Eastern Maine Processing Center in Hampden, 192 miles away, to be processed. It then returns the following day by truck to Wallagrass — which is 182 miles away. Those are already long distances.

If, however, the Hampden plant were to close, this letter would have to be transported all the way down to Scarborough, some 322 miles away from Fort Kent, and then get trucked another 312 miles back to Wallagrass. I can’t begin to imagine how many days that would take, not to mention the expense involved.

If mail to and from the northern half of Maine has to travel all the way to the Scarborough plant to be processed, longer delivery times are inevitable and that has consequences — for small businesses advertising their products or billing their customers, for families who use the mail for their daily newspaper delivery, for seniors who rely on the mail for their prescription drugs and for so many others. This would be a troubling downgrade in service.

During tough economic times, most businesses do their best to improve service so they can keep their customers. Too often when it is in crisis, however, the postal service does the opposite. It turns to rate hikes and service cuts.

The Hampden facility is a lifeline for businesses and a critical piece of the infrastructure that enables the postal service to meet its universal service mandate by serving the people of northern and eastern Maine.

With some creativity, the Hampden plant could generate additional revenue that the postal service badly needs. Has the postal service considered retaining the processing operation in Hampden, but leasing unneeded space in the building? Sharing part of the building with other businesses would reduce its footprint and generate revenue without hurting service.

Postal reform legislation is also on the agenda for Congress. I am one of four authors of a bipartisan postal reform bill that the Senate will soon consider. Our plan would help the postal service reduce operating costs, modernize its business model and innovate to generate new revenue.

It makes no sense to proceed with closure of an essential plant when much better alternatives may be forthcoming. Service keeps customers. I urge the U.S. Postal Service, an American institution, to keep its customers and not harm or slow service. Today, that service goes through Hampden. Let’s keep it that way.

Susan Collins, a Republican, is Maine’s junior U.S. senator.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/01/10/opinion/contributors/hampden-postal-facility-key-to-service-economy/ printed on August 1, 2014