HAMPDEN, Maine — Sen. Olympia Snowe toured the U.S. Postal Service Eastern Maine Processing facility Tuesday to make it clear what her priority is when it comes to mail.
“It’s ever more important to make sure we have this kind of facility in this location,” said Snowe. “I don’t understand the rationale of the U.S. Post Office to suggest that somehow there should be a consolidation of this particular facility in this state, given the large geographical distribution required, and given the cost it will present to those who live in this area and rely on consistent distribution of mail.
“I’m here today to make sure I understand everything about this facility so we can organize everything going forward to present a good case against closing this facility.”
With a steep decline in mail volume due to current economic troubles as well as continuing competition from electronic social media and technology, the U.S. Postal Service is saying it has an excess of employees and equipment in some mail processing operations and that is has to cut $20 billion in operating costs by 2015 to be profitable.
An ongoing study that began in September has come up with a proposal to consolidate Maine’s processing network from two centers in Hampden and Scarborough to just the one in Scarborough.
“Obviously it’s not making any sense on the face of it,” said Snowe. “There are only two facilities like this in the state and the other is 130 miles away.
“Should we be cost-conscious? Absolutely, but I can’t see the rationale for saving money by closing a facility like this and shifting the work to Scarborough,” she added. “It’s going to add time, money and hardship, as well as creating greater economic havoc at a time when we can ill afford it.”
Snowe met with Hampden plant manager Tracy Mearls, Scarborough plant manager James Lentz, and USPS spokesman for the Northern New England District Tom Rizzo, which covers Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. She also met other postal managers and employees during and after her tour of the Hampden facility.
“I wanted to see this facility, firsthand, in terms of all their responsibilities and obligations, and also to have a discussion with management,” Snowe explained. “I want to know what’s at stake and what needs to be conveyed to the U.S. Postal Service.
“We’ll do everything we can to amass a case against consolidation of this facility, and fortunately the Postal Service has deferred the consolidations until May 15.”
The Hampden plant currently employs 183 people.
“That brings up the question of people losing jobs in a very difficult economic environment,” Snowe said. “This could ultimately affect our economic well-being in many ways. Many businesses, particularly small businesses located in this area of the state, depend on the postal facilities and regular services, not to mention people who rely on the mail for their medications.”
The U.S. Postal Service has tentatively scheduled a public meeting to explain the proposal for 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer’s East West Industrial Park on Coffin Avenue. The meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 29.
Sen. Susan Collins has already said she intends to attend the meeting.
“Senator Collins, as ranking member on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, certainly has been working on the Postal Service system and has indicated she is opposed to this kind of consolidation,” Snowe said.