Friday, May 24, 2013
Three Dozen Alaska Post Offices Targeted For Potential Closure
Rural Alaskans say losing post office would threaten their very survival
ANCHORAGE—In Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning came the announcement many rural Alaskans have been dreading.
“The Postal Service will be releasing a list of approximately 3,700 retail offices that will be studied for potential discontinuance or conversion,” said Dean Granholm, vice president of delivery and post office operations of U.S Postal Service.
On that list are 36 Alaska post offices, many of them in villages, including the only one in Aleknagik.
“It’s a vital part of our community,” said Jane Gottschalk, one of the village’s 200-plus residents.
The post office, Gottschalk said, is not a luxury but a necessity. It's used for residents' banking and health care needs; prescription drugs are often mailed to patients through USPS.
In a village where a loaf of bread costs more than seven dollars, many residents mail basic items, like bread, from Anchorage, in order to save a couple of bucks.
“I think this is one of the most expensive cost-of-living areas,” Gottschalk said.
But USPS is also looking to save some money.
“It's no secret that the postal service is looking to change the way we do a lot of things,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahue said in Tuesday’s news conference. “And it's driven by a large part on what makes sense financially and what makes sense for our customers and the communities we support. I think it's important to remind everybody that we take no taxpayer money.”
If USPS were to close the branch in Aleknagik, residents will have to travel more than 25 miles to the Dillingham post office.
They’d have to make the trip by boat in the summer or snow machine in the winter across Lake Aleknagik, where more than 20 people have drowned in recent years, said Gottschalk, adding that her village had been promised a bridge for years.
“It's going to create a lot of hardship for our elders and our people because we don't really have a good economic base here and a lot of people don't have vehicles,” Gottschalk said.
The USPS announcement “should be cause for alarm” in rural Alaska, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
But USPS officials said they are trying to save money.
“We do feel that we are still very relevant to the American public and the American economy but we also have to make some pretty tough choices as we work through some of the financial issues that we face,” Donahue said in Tuesday’s news conference.
Senator Mark Begich joined senators of other states asking Donahue for detailed information on what the reviews entail.
Governor Sean Parnell said his administration is studying the proposal and will work with affected towns and villages to reduce the potential negative effects.
Murkowski said she asked USPS for answers.
“What we need to assure people is that there is a human analysis that will go forward from here,” Murkowski said in a phone interview with CBS 11. “It's our understanding that each post office will be looked at on a case-by-case analysis. We're told by the U.S. Postal Service that no post office is going to be closed if it's the only post office within the community.”
The reviews will be completed by February 2012. A public hearing is expected to be held at some point during the process.