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Protect the Endangered Snail Mail

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” is not the U.S. Post Office’s official creed, though most people think it is. And it turns out that it’s not the weather that could stop the mail from coming — or coming on time — it’s finances. 

In December the U.S. Postal Service recommended that mail distribution centers in Salem, Pendleton, Bend and Springfield’s Gateway location be closed and have their work picked up by Portland’s facility. In other words a letter mailed from Eugene to Springfield would first have to go a hundred miles up I-5 to Portland before coming back south to be delivered. 

The USPS also recommended that first-class delivery be slowed down by a day or so, and that a number of small, rural post offices be closed, including, Deadwood, Swisshome and Walton in Lane County’s Coast Range, and Agness in Curry County to the south. These are all part of cost-saving measures for a postal service billions of dollars in debt. There has also been discussion of dropping Saturday mail delivery.

Residents of these rural communities were among the participants in an Occupy the Post Office statewide day of action. In Deadwood, a community with a population of less than 200, at least 80 people turned out for the Dec. 19 rally, including a team of draft horses  — the “Deadwood Pony Express.” Walton had a turnout of about 20, and that included several Occupy tents that were pitched as part of the protest.

Agness has since been taken off the closure list, so residents no longer need to fear driving 70 miles round-trip for postal services. 

Some point fingers at the internet, email and social media for the postal woes, but others say the Postal Service’s financial crisis also stems from the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed by Congress in 2006 that forces the USPS to prefund employee retirement benefits at $5.5 billion a year. The funding cutbacks in postal services benefit private mail carriers, such as FedEx and UPS, but private carriers are not inclined to serve unprofitable small-population, rural areas.

Congressman Peter DeFazio has introduced two pieces of legislation to help solve the financial issues facing the USPS: HR 3591, Postal Service Protection Act and HR 3592, Protecting Rural Post Office Act. Sen. Jeff Merkely has introduced companion legislation to HR 3592 in the Senate.