Maine’s mail marathon

Posted Jan. 02, 2009, at 6:40 p.m.

The front page story in Wednesday’s newspaper described the state’s plan to ensure that the many thousands of snowmobilers operate safely on Maine trails this winter.

The story jumped to Page A8, where it reported, among other developments, that Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Danny Martin has “urged all riders to wear their helmets.” An adjacent two-column color photograph illustrating the story featured a Lewiston snowmobiler zipping along on his snowsled. The Associated Press photo fairly jumped off the page, and it was not hard to see why: The only thing that Snowmobile Guy wore on his head was a receding hairline.

So much for Martin’s impassioned plea for snowmobilers to wear helmets while operating their machines. And for the “common sense” urged upon snowmobilers by Gov. John Baldacci in the photo’s caption, as well.

And speaking of the absence of common sense…

A full-page advertisement in last weekend’s newspaper aimed at customers of the U.S. Postal Service and paid for by the Bangor Area Local 536 of the American Postal Workers Union left no doubt that the union believes the postal service’s decision to send mail from eastern and northern Maine to Scarborough for processing is a clunker.

In August, citing improved efficiency and cost-savings, the USPS began sending to its Scarborough facility so-called “standard-class flat mail” from eastern and northern Maine that for the past decade had been processed at its Hampden processing center. In November, the postal service also began shipping to Scarborough all Saturday mail originating here in The Real Maine.

The union’s newspaper ad claimed that the procedure has resulted in frequently delayed mail arriving at the Hampden processing center from the Scarborough facility, with a consequent inconvenience to postal customers. The USPS says an independent monitoring of the new procedures doesn’t support the allegations. In letters to editors of area newspapers, as well as to the postal service and members of the Maine congressional delegation, customers have complained about the system.

The union ad suggested that the geography involved makes the decision to transfer work to Scarborough a bad one. It stated that a letter mailed on a Saturday from Fort Kent to Millinocket under the new routine is trucked from Fort Kent to Hampden, where it is placed on a different truck for the 135-mile drive to Scarborough for processing. It is then sent by truck back to Hampden to be further processed and finally transported to Millinocket, a total distance of 538 miles from sender to recipient.

And what of the letter mailed on a Saturday in Fort Kent destined for a business or residence just across town, or elsewhere in the St. John Valley? Whereas that one formerly traveled “only” the roughly 400 miles to Hampden and back before reaching the recipient, it now travels an additional 270 miles before it is deposited in the addressee’s mailbox.

Valley residents will be forgiven the pun should they allege that may be pushing the envelope of postal service standards a bit.

When the Hampden processing center’s mail was first shipped to Scarborough last summer, Hampden Town Manager Sue Lessard told reporters, “I’m not sure how it makes sense to send mail down to southern Maine, only to have to send it back.”

For years, postal customers in the far-flung areas of eastern and northern Maine have been expressing the same sentiment about the practice of sending their mail to Hampden for sorting and the subsequent return of much of it to their area. It is not surprising that the idea of sending the regional mail on to Scarborough may be playing even worse in the outback than it is in Hampden.

It’s a possibility that this alleged streamlining in a worsening economy makes sense and that the arrangement may be made to work, as the experts who know about such things insist. But the odds are even better that the average bear in this neck of the woods remains skeptical of official assurances that he is not somehow getting hosed in the deal.

When it comes to what is considered best for the occupants of one Maine, vis-a-vis occupants of the other, this is not his first rodeo.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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