Post offices across rural Montana are being studied for closure to help save money for a hemorrhaging U.S. Postal Service.
Of the offices being studied here, 38 have received proposals to close. About another 40 offices have yet to hold public meetings, a process that is typically done before the proposals are posted.
USPS Montana District coordinator John Diperi is scheduling public meetings, reviewing the public input and making a recommendation on closure or no closure. The USPS vice president of delivery and post office operations will make the final decisions whether to close or continue operations for each office, after reviewing Diperi’s recommendations.
USPS spokesperson Pete Nowacki said 60-day notices are posted at each of the affected offices and public comment is being sought. USPS is distributing questionnaires to the post office boxes and mail route customers in the affected postal jurisdictions.
“We will ask information of how frequently they use the post office, how they use it,” Nowacki said.
At the end of the 60 days, Nowacki said all public comments and the information gathered from the questionnaires will be reported to USPS headquarters, where the final decision will be made.
Even then, it’s not over. If an office is selected for closure, Nowacki said an additional 30-day notice will be put up, allowing for an appeal from the public. If no one appeals, the office would close within another 30 days after the expiration of the final notice.
This process doesn’t sit well with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who wrote a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe on Monday demanding consideration of public comment. Specifically, Baucus cited the offices in Galata, Dupuyer and Melrose.
“Neither Dupuyer nor Galata were given even a full week from the time of their public meetings to the time of receiving their closure notices,” Baucus said in the letter. “It is clear that the Postal Service decided to close these post offices without sufficiently considering community input, and I oppose moving forward with the closings until Montanans have more time to voice their support for their local post office.”
The notices were posted in Galata and Dupuyer on Sept. 30. The notice in Melrose was posted on Sept. 16. Even with the notice, the public still has 60 days to provide comment.
If the offices were to close, most of them would be put on highway contract route serviced by a closer, larger office.
The mail route in Musselshell, for instance, would move under the oversight of the Melstone Post Office 14 miles away. If the Musselshell office were to close, USPS would save an estimated $332,380 over 10 years. Other offices of similar size would provide savings of between $250,000 and $400,000 per year, according to the proposals.
The USPS has already closed or consolidated district offices and sorting centers, including the shutdown of the Big Sky District in Billings.