September 21, 2011

Grassy Butte residents fight to keep their post office

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Grassy Butte residents are boiling mad that their post office is one of 3,700 post offices in the United States that have been targeted for closure. But as mad as they are about the concept of being forced to travel 50 miles to buy stamps or to mail packages, what really irks them is how hard it has been for them to make their concerns known to postal authorities.
And Wanda Cleveland, manager of post office operations for the Dakotas District was on the receiving end of that frustration during a two-hour meeting last Wednesday on the possible closure of the Grassy Butte Post Office.
According to Cleveland, post offices with less than two hours of workload per day are being studied for possible closure. And the Grassy Butte Post Office, which has 46 boxes, is one on that list.
“We have an active postmaster and a good building,” stated Carla Fleck, who served as the Grassy Butte postmaster for 36 years before retiring five years ago.
According to Fleck, the Grassy Butte Post Office has seen its office hours reduced and its services limited.
“Our post office is now only open from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday,” stated Fleck. “Most people that live in the country can’t get to the post office during those hours and that’s why the volume of business there is down.”
But for the 60-plus residents of the Grassy Butte area who attended the meeting, a big part of their frustration lies in the lack of understanding on the part of the postal system in not understanding what it is like to live in the North Dakota Badlands.
Under postal system guidelines, carriers cannot travel more than half  a mile off the main route per resident, and if a resident lives beyond that distance, they must have a mailbox on the main route.
“You need to come out here and see what it’s like - the roads, the traffic, the Badlands. We just can’t leave a package by the side of the road,” stated one resident who lives five miles from her rural mailbox. “The package will be stolen or damaged by the weather.”
Likewise, those that lived miles off the beaten path were concerned about the level of service that they would receive by a rural carrier.
“Mail right now is slower than ever,” stated Eunice Christophersen. “I’ve lived here my whole life and the service now is worse than ever. We need more services, not less.”
And that complaint was echoed time and time again to Cleveland.
Business owners told Cleveland of how their business was growing and more new businesses were moving into the Grassy Butte area that needed to have access to a post office.
And they shared with her their concern that a single contract carrier coming out of Killdeer would not be able to adequately deliver the mail as well as sell stamps and weigh packages.
“You’ll have to hire more than one carrier to handle the business,” stated one Grassy Butte resident.
“And what are you going to do when the carrier quits because of the increased workload?” asked another resident.
While Cleveland avoided giving any specific answers to the questions, she did encourage the residents to submit their concerns to the Postal Regulatory Commission.
“Is anyone going to answer our questions?” asked Merle Jost.
“You’ll get a response from the discontinuance coordinator,” stated Cleveland.
If the Postal Regulatory Commission does decide to close the Grassy Butte Post Office, according to Cleveland, one option that Grassy Butte residents would have is to create a Village Post Office.
“A Village Post Office is contracted with the U.S. Postal Service by a retail business,” stated Cleveland. “It would be able to offer the sale of postage stamps and handle flat rate packages.”
But whether or not there is a Village Post Office, according to Cleveland, mail would still be delivered by a contract carrier.
“If the post office in Grassy Butte is closed, all mail will be delivered to a group of mail boxes somewhere in Grassy Butte,” stated Cleveland.
While Grassy Butte resident acknowledge that there may be very little that they can do to save their post office, they intend to 'fight the good fight.'
“I’m telling everyone who wants to help save the Grassy Butte Post Office to write personal letters to the Postal Regulatory Commission, to the postal service  and to our elected officials in Washington, D.C.,” states Fleck. “We have to show them (the Postal Regulatory Commission) that we care and that we want our post office to continue.”