Add-on to bill aids post offices

Add-on to bill aids post offices

Rural closings would wait a year


By:  Paul C. Barton

WASHINGTON — Rural post offices in Oregon threatened with closure gained protection Wednesday, but the battle is far from over.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley succeeded in attaching an amendment to a postal service reform bill that would impose a one-year moratorium on the closure of most rural post offices.

After that, it would prohibit the closure of post offices that are more than 10 miles from another post office and impose conditions limiting the closure of others.

There also could be good news under the bill for the mail processing centers in Salem, Bend, Pendleton and Eugene.

Merkley’s amendment was part of a comprehensive postal service reform bill approved by the Senate by a 62-37 vote Wednesday. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., voted for the measure, too. It now goes to the House of Representatives, where there is considerable support for preserving rural facilities.

“This is a victory for our small businesses, seniors, and all rural Oregonians,” Merkley said in a statement.

“They depend on their local post office to get their goods to market and pick up medication, and I am grateful that Oregonians can continue to count on these crucial services. Our rural post offices are too important to close.”

In the portion of the amendment that addresses processing centers, the bill requires the postal service to maintain overnight service for items mailed to another address in the same service area.

For example, a letter mailed in Salem would have to arrive in Salem the next day. Merkley’s office said it would be difficult for the Postal Service to uphold that standard if it closes those processing centers.

His amendment comes as 20 rural post offices in Oregon face closure because of the postal service’s financial problems.

Under Merkley’s amendment, the post offices that would be saved because they are more than 10 miles from another are in the towns of Cascadia, Deadwood, Eddyville, Fort Klamath, Hereford, Juntura, Kent, Kimberly, New Pine Creek, Tiller and Westfall.

Conditions that would have to be met before other rural offices could close include:

• Giving customers substantially similar access to essential services, such as prescription medications and time-sensitive communications sent through the mail.

• Keeping economic losses to local businesses and communities from exceeding the savings to the Postal Service.

• Ensuring that areas would have access to wired broadband Internet service.

Because of those conditions, Merkley’s office said, other post offices that likely would be saved would be those in Broadbent, Gardiner, Grass Valley, Helix, Idanha, Rufus, Shaniko, Swisshome and Walton.

pbarton@gannett.com or (202) 591-9447