Anchorage Daily News: Review of rural postal service draws Alaska senators' fire

Alaska's U.S. senators raised concerns Tuesday with a U.S. Postal Service plan that could result in the consolidation or closure of post offices in rural Alaska. 

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said that while changes are needed within the cash-strapped agency, a post office is a necessity, not a convenience in terms of Alaska's way of life. Most Alaska communities aren't connected to a road system, and often in those areas, the post office is where people go to get prescriptions and food, conduct business and banking, and connect with family and friends, she and Sen. Mark Begich said. 

"The United States Post Office needs to be very clear about their intent and process," Begich, D-Alaska, said in a statement. "Any reduction in services for these 36 Alaska post offices could have grave consequences for the communities, businesses and families." 

The agency announced Tuesday it will study more than 3,600 offices for possible closure; most of the 36 being looked at in Alaska are in rural areas, as are many other targeted offices nationwide. The agency said it's possible it could open "village post offices" to replace many of those affected. Such offices would operate in places like local stores or government office buildings. 

It's not a certainty that an office under review will close; a recent review of the agency's mail processing operations in Juneau found consolidation at this time unnecessary. 

One of the post offices on the list is that in Sleetmute, a village of about 90 residents on the east bank of the Kuskokwim River, about 250 miles west of Anchorage. Sophie Gregory, the village's president and fill-in postmaster, said people there are already thinking about what they'll do if their post office closes. Gregory said she doesn't know what to tell them. 

"It would leave a big hole," she said, adding: "People come over to pick up mail and they get all these boxes. And they have to get them out or the post office will be full." 

A letter to the postmaster general, signed by Begich and three other Democratic senators, seeks such things as a detailed analysis of the criteria used to determine which offices to close and agency response to community comments regarding possible closures. 

Murkowski said she's confident the agency, in reviewing offices, will recognizes that many of those in Alaska "serve critical functions beyond just selling stamps and delivering letters." 

"Our administration is studying the proposal and will work with affected towns and villages to mitigate or avoid negative consequences to the extent we are able," Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement. "It is my hope that the federal government will find cost savings while also demonstrating their understanding of the importance of mail service, particularly in our state's rural communities."



Source: By: Associated Press. Originally Published on July 26, 2011