Juneau residents turned out in force Wednesday night to urge U.S. Postal Service officials not to close the Douglas Post Office.
The branch is on a list with thousands of other post offices nationwide being studied for possible closure by the financially struggling agency. But for the approximately 150 people who packed the Mt. Jumbo Gym Wednesday, it’s more than just a place to pick up mail and send packages. It’s a part of the community.
In fact, Douglas Post Office clerks Lee Kearney and Dean Ruby were grand marshals of the Douglas 4th of July parade last year, as pointed out by John Sandor and several others.
“I would be shocked if there’s another post office in the country whose postal workers served as grand marshals,” said Sandor.
Most of those who testified were Douglas residents, who like the convenience of having a post office nearby. But several said they live on the Juneau side of the bridge, but drive to into Douglas rather than use the federal building station downtown. Jack Cadigan gave three reasons why he prefers Douglas.
“Parking, parking and parking,” Cadigan said. “I counted, perhaps incorrectly, but 13 parking spaces 30 minutes each to service the main post office and the entire federal building – all seven stories and all the other agencies that are there. There’s 15 right down here on Douglas. We can come over here with packages, we can bring them in, we can get them shipped, we can get them mailed. And it’s great.”
Edwin Soto, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 3323 in Juneau, said seniors, people with disabilities, and businesses in Douglas would take the biggest hit if the post office were to close. He argued the Postal Service’s savings would be modest at best, and said the real reason for the agency’s financial problems is a 2006 postal reform law that requires the U.S.P.S. to prefund future retiree health care benefits.
Soto called that “an obligation that no other federal agency or private business must bear.”
Diane Horbochuk, U.S. Postal Service District Manager for Alaska, was one of three Anchorage-based U.S.P.S. officials who heard the testimony. She said public input will be just one of the factors taken into consideration as the agency decides which post offices to shutter. Another factor she mentioned was the cost of running each location. If the Postal Service decides to close the Douglas branch, Horbochuk said there would be an opportunity for the community to appeal.
“At this point we have not made that decision,” stressed Horbochuk. “We’re going to go back and look at all our data, take into account the comments and make a decision. If we do make a decision that goes against what the community feels it should be, then you will be given the notice of what to do for what we would call an appeal. And that would be spelled out and we would post that in the post office.”
The Douglas office is one of 11 in Alaska still on the list for possible closure. The list originally included 36 post offices in the state, but 25 rural locations were spared after community groups voiced concerns.
Earlier this week Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe warned Congress that the Postal Service could lose 10-billion dollars in the fiscal year that closes at the end of this month, and the agency is in danger of defaulting as it reaches its borrowing limit.
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