HAMPDEN, Maine — Thanks to a late policy change by the United States Postal Service, the mail will continue to be delivered — and sorted — at the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Hampden, at least for another two years.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, confirmed Wednesday that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told her he has established new standards of service, including those for overnight delivery, that will ensure the continued operation of the Hampden facility at least until 2014.
“The Postmaster General has made the right choice in deciding to pursue service standards similar to those I authored and included in the Senate-passed postal reform legislation,” Collins said in a statement given to the Bangor Daily News. “As long as these standards are followed, the Hampden postal facility will not close.
“I appreciate that the Postmaster General is listening and adopting a common-sense approach to processing plants and overnight delivery.”
The postmaster general’s policy shift came just over 24 hours before the USPS was scheduled to begin the Hampden plant’s consolidation, which would have involved shifting all of its processing duties to the Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough. It also would have meant the loss or relocation of 170 of the plant’s 183 jobs.
“We were hoping the House would act quickly on the Senate bill, but realized that wouldn’t happen,” said Ralph Jordan of Ellsworth, a postal clerk who has worked at the Hampden facility for the last 10 years. “We’re just overjoyed with the news and we think it’s a win for the people of central and northern Maine who depend on a viable postal service to make a living, pay bills, and get medical supplies, among other things.”
Jordan, a 22-year veteran USPS employee, said it has been a tough work atmosphere the last couple of months.
“There was a definite sense of frustration out there, and there was also a sense of sadness, too, because the United States Postal Service is one of the greatest institutions on the planet and we didn’t want to see our service standards suffer,” Jordan said. “We just concentrated on getting the mail out and doing our job.”
According to Collins’ office, the postmaster general’s revised plan means approximately 320 of the 461 processing facilities nationwide will remain open. Initially, 223 facilities were targeted for consolidation as the USPS struggles to offset losses due to a drastic decline in mail volume and the prefunding of $5.5 billion per year for 10 years — 2007-2016 — for health and pension benefits required by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.
The USPS announced last year it has to cut $20 billion in operating costs by 2015 to turn a profit after losing money for the last five years. The Postal Service has indicated it is losing $23 million a day on average and is in such dire straits it’s at risk of not being able to cover its operating expenses later this fall.
Both Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have called attention to businesses and individuals in Maine who would suffer if processing operations were confined to just one facility in southern Maine.
“If mail to and from the northern half of Maine had to travel all the way to the Scarborough plant to be processed, longer delivery times would have been inevitable, and that has consequences for small businesses advertising their products or billing their customers, for families who use the mail for newspaper delivery, for seniors who rely on the mail for their prescription drugs, and for so many others,” Collins said Wednesday.
Michael Bazinet, president of Creative Digital Imaging in Bangor, was concerned that consolidation would harm his 13-year-old business, which provides billing services for many hospitals in Maine and as far away as California.
“I had several large customers in that area who have been very worried about this situation and we’ve been following it extremely closely,” said Bazinet, whose company also handles BDN subscription bills.
Bazinet and some of his employees have appeared in national TV ads on behalf of the national postal union to illustrate the harm closing Hampden’s processing operations would have.
“Having that facility stay open allows us to service our in-state customers the same way we are now and prevent them from having to migrate to a more electronic alternative of the services we provide,” Bazinet said Wednesday. “It would have added a day of mail time to our medical clients in the northern part of the state, and even locally.”
Jordan could see the potential impact from two vantage points, both as an employee and a customer, because his family’s 60-year-old Ellsworth-based farming business depends on the mail for supplies.
“We get baby chicks, seeds and other things through the mail. We depend on that,” he said.
Closing Hampden’s processing operations would make reliable overnight delivery service impossible in Maine, especially to and from its more rural areas.
“As I have long argued, given the geography of our state, both plants … are clearly essential to avoid lengthy delays in mail delivery which would cause a further loss of postal customers and revenues,” Collins said.