HAMPDEN, Maine — The first time she met with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to discuss his plan to close the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Hampden as a cost-cutting measure, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins took out a Maine road map and unrolled it on the coffee table.
“I showed him where my hometown of Caribou was and showed him where this plant in Hampden was,” the Republican senator said Friday during a visit to the Hampden facility.
“And then I showed him where Scarborough was and I explained that to get mail from northern Maine to Scarborough and back would involve a trip of more than 600 miles,” Collins said.
“I will say I don’t think he had fully realized just how enormous our state is. That was the first time that I attempted to educate him about what the consequences of closing this plant would be,” she said. “I made the case that simply because of the geography of our state — its large size — we need two postal processing facilities.”
That move, and more like it, apparently had an effect. Earlier this week, Donahoe told Collins that he had 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 standards are part of a postal reform bill that Collins co-wrote. The legislation has been passed by the U.S. Senate and is expected to go before the U.S. House of Representatives next month. If the House passes the bill, the Hampden plant will remain open for the foreseeable future.
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 the facility’s 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.
“The problem is if you close plants like this, that are essential to good service, what happens is businesses and individuals start pursuing alternatives to using the postal service,” which would result in the loss of even more volume, Collins said. “Driving away customers are actions that should not be taken if you want to restore the post office’s fiscal health.”
“If this plant had been allowed to close, it would have meant two-thirds of our state would have lost access to overnight delivery of mail,” she said. “That would have had consequences for businesses that are advertising, for newspapers that are being delivered through the mail, for seniors who are relying on prescription drug delivery and for so many others, so I think this is a happy day for the region.”
During her visit, Collins met with workers at the Hampden plant and municipal and elected officials from area communities.
Debbie Brodie of Bangor, who has been working at the Hampden plant for 13 years, said she and other employees are grateful that the plant will stay open.
“It is wonderful. It’s just for a couple more years but it’ll give us time. They did a great job, Sen. Collins and her staff. They kept in contact with everybody. They did great,” she said.
Had the Hampden plant closed, workers would have been offered positions at the southern Maine plant, she said.
“That’s the tough part,” she said. “We all would have had jobs down in [Scarborough] but our family’s up here. That’s why most of us live in this area.”
“It’s been bad for the past six months for us .. We all put things on hold to make sure and find out what’s happening.”
Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard also was pleased with this week’s turn of events.
“This is an important regional facility and its location in Hampden is one more tool in the tool kit for attracting business,” she said. With regard to the good-paying jobs that are staying, “It’s not just the payroll but the spin-off effects. The ripples are felt way beyond this facility,” she said.
Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said that the Hampden plant has a great deal of impact on commerce and communication.
“We’re in a society where you don’t wait a week to get information and for businesses that choose to be in Maine to continue to be here and do business elsewhere, this would be just another blow to that business,” he said.