Editorial: Take a long look before cancelling Post Office's rural outposts

August 6, 2011

Stamps are not the only thing about to get canceled by the U.S. Postal Service.

How about post offices at Helix, Drewsey, Juntura, Sunriver, and other remote - and not-so-remote - communities?

Even Post, in Crook County, would have no post office under a list of 41 Oregon locations proposed for closure in 2012.

This does not seem right. Post offices are more than just places to drop a letter or parcel. (Speaking of which, it's still not possible to send a wrapped box via email.)

The impact will be deeply felt as the U.S. Postal Service attempts to stem its budgetary hemorrhage by severing its ties to America's smallest towns.

Post offices are community centers, and while most people in larger communities have little direct contact with their post office, it is the remote rural communities that are about to lose these facilities.

From the USPS's business standpoint, it makes sense, but not from a social one. For medical supplies and many other needs, these offices remain vital parts of these communities - lifelines, even.

Post offices are places common to us all, gathering points in an era that seems to provide fewer and fewer chances for people to connect face to face.

Yet in the face of an $8 billion budget deficit, USPS is considering closing 3,700 of the 31,871 post offices nationwide. Many locations are slated to become part of a "village post office," where local retailers would contract to provide some postal-related services. But the term seems euphemistic, just as what the USPS calls the overall change of locations process: "Expanded Access," apparently because there are now 100,000 locations to purchase products and services - locations such as grocery stores and ATM machines.

But these do not replace the rural post office. This is the rationale of the USPS as stated on its website: "Our customer's habits have made it clear they no longer require a physical post office to conduct most of their postal business.

"More and more (customers) are choosing to conduct their postal business online, on their smart phone and at their shopping destinations. And that means the need for us to maintain nearly 32,000 retail offices has diminished."

Yet, nationwide, 35 percent of urban residents own smartphones, compared to 21 percent of rural residents, and it is rural communities that are most affected under the list of Oregon locations.

The closest such closure to Hood River, under the proposal, will be in Rufus, east of The Dalles.

Rufus is part of a string of small offices in Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties slated for closure: nearby Grass Valley, Kent, Shaniko and Antelope are all on the list.

For now, Odell, Parkdale, Mosier and Cascade Locks are safe, but it makes one wonder if, a few years from now, they would become just another cluster of post offices deemed marginal.

The public may comment on all of this, if not to stop the pending round of closures but to let the USPS know how you feel about similar action in the future.

Let the Postal Inspector General know what you think, by email at: usps.com/customerservice

Or, do the Postal Service a favor, and write a letter to the Postmaster General, 475 L'Enfant Plaza S.W., Washington, D.C. 20260-0010.

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