US Postal Service officials remain mum on the reasons behind an investigation into operations of a contract post office in Knik, but residents of the area formerly served by the facility are demanding answers.
When the Knik contract post office closed without warning in September, about 1600 mailbox – holders in the area were forced to drive into downtown Wasilla to pick up their mail general delivery. Many Knik residents commute to Anchorage for work during the week, so just picking up the mail became a time consuming chore.
Ralph Winterrowd II is a legal researcher and a Knik resident .
“I have to drive in an additional six to eight miles to Wasilla. I stand in line, initially it was up to two hours and I finally walked out one day. So I have to go in there every day, and stand in line with everybody else, so we have 650 people, getting general delivery at one window.”
Winterrowd has collected about one thousand signatures on a petition to get the facility at Knik reopened. He says there is no legal basis for the Post Office’s action.
US Postal Service officials in Alaska will only say there is an “ongoing investigation” into slow mail delivery provided by the Knik contract facility. Lead investigator Sarah Harland would not comment, nor would Wasilla postmaster Eric Schuller. Post Office media liason John Masters sent a printed release indicating quote:
” No additional information related to this investigation is available for public release due to Privacy Act considerations and the ongoing status of the USPS OIG’s [office of inspector general] investigation.”
Tell that to Chuck Spinelli.
“We are just kind of in the dark, waiting for somebody to tell us something, ” Spinelli says.
Real estate developer Spinelli held the contract on the Knik facility for eleven years until it was abruptly shut down.
Spinelli says since postal officials shut the Knik facility, and then informed him that he was part of an investigation six weeks ago, he’s heard nothing.
“Absolutely nothing that I’ve heard of. I’ve tried to contact them, I’ve tried to find out if they have an inventory of what they took, if there’s a date certain when they conclude their investigation, or give us some advice as to what they are actually investigating, but we can get very little information out of them.”
Since the shut-down, postal officials have taken the mailboxes out of the building that housed the contract post office, Spinelli says.
A couple of years ago, the Knik contract facility started handling the mail for Goose Creek Correctional Facility. That’s anywhere from 400 to 900 pieces of mail a day, Spinelli says. And on top of that, the contract facility was handling FedEx and UPS shipments at no extra charge to customers. Spenelli says he had given the Postal Service written notice that he wanted to end the contract next spring, because an increase in the amount of mail the facility was responsible for was boosting the costs of running the facility. He says a contract postal service is not a lucrative business, but more like “indentured servitude.”
“We started off with 600 boxes and increased it to 1700 boxes. And increased the revenue. We doubled the revenue for the post office.”
He says the post office responded to his request to renegotiate the contract by giving him one day’s notice on September 30 that his contract was canceled. Spinelli admits that when he visited the Knik facility in mid September, there was a great deal of mail stacked there, undelivered.
“When I went out there in September, it looked like December 24 to me, you know just packed to the gills with mail.”
And with the winter holidays coming soon, along with an uptick in mail, is there a solution in sight?
Dawn Peppinger, a marketing manager with the Postal Service’s Alaska district, says the service has taken steps to help facilitate mail delivery for Knik customers
“We extended the hours for pickup, and we have extra staff dedicated to serving our Knik customers.”
Peppinger, who made it clear she was not speaking for the postal service’s Office of Inspector General, says three entities have submitted bids to operate the Knik contract facility, but she would offer little more information.