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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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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