HANSEN — Postal workers may not fear snow or hail, but e-mail is another story.
To counter record revenue losses, the U.S. Postal Service plans to identify 2,000 post offices in March that will be closed, with another 16,000 to possibly follow. While the lagging economy is a contributor to the closures, the start of the service’s downturn coincides with a pre-recession increase in e-mail use and texting. Since 2001, the amount of first-class mail has dropped 42 percent, according to the USPS.
Based on federal requirements, the majority of shuttered offices will likely be shopping-mall outposts and stores that typically use leased space and don’t employ mail carriers. Locals hope rural Idaho will be spared, but with the USPS considering the elimination of about half its facilities, it’s possible a few Magic Valley offices will close.
“It’s all speculation right now; we’re all just waiting to see the list,” said Cheryl Graybeal, officer in charge at the Castleford post office, which hasn’t had a postmaster for almost two years. In an earlier effort to cut spending, USPS froze hiring new administrators.
Post offices that are closer together may have more to worry about. In the Magic Valley, a number of offices are within 10 miles of each other, including Paul and Rupert, Kimberly and Hansen, and Castleford and Buhl. Keeping more remote locations like Richfield open may be easier to justify.
Acting supervisor A.J. Laroque said the Rupert office wasn’t at risk, but managers could consolidate Paul into the Rupert office or Declo and Malta into the Burley office.
“The district managers just spoke to us about options last week,” Laroque said. “People would still be able to buy stamps or rent P.O. boxes in the old places; they’d just have fewer services and no postmaster.”
But Hansen Postmaster Valerie Blastock said proximity isn’t the only consideration.
“The Kimberly office doesn’t have much room for another carrier,” Blastock said. “So they also have to consider the size and space of the buildings.”
Blastock probably has a good feel for the possible fates of local post offices because she has clerked at many, including Castleford and Filer. While she’s still Hansen’s postmaster, she’s spent her time as the officer in charge of the Filer post office, which lost its postmaster in November.
Blastock said rural offices tend to be a focal point of the community, so their loss would be the community’s loss.
“It’s a little like going in to have your hair done,” Blastock said. “It’s a common place where almost everyone eventually bumps into each other and ends up chatting. Not everyone goes to the bar.”
Hansen resident Bradd Stevenson said taking a post office away from a community just accelerates its loss of business. Cassia County residents cite the example of how Elba started to disappear once its post office moved to Malta.
Rural communities are generally getting older, too. For those with mobility issues, driving a few miles to the local post office is one thing, but a number of Hansen seniors questioned Monday didn’t like the thought of heading to Kimberly or Twin Falls to find a post office.
“You have your regulars and they get to know us so sometimes they just come in to visit,” said Erin Mathson, who’s subbing as Hansen’s officer in charge while Blastock is in Filer. “Everyone keeps asking where Valerie is.”
Blastock said some offices may not be closed completely; they may just have reduced hours, allowing geographically close offices to share a clerk.
Greybeal said Castleford already shares one carrier with Buhl.
That would be preferable for Koni Bourne, one of many Hansen residents who have a post office box, as offices don’t deliver within a quarter-mile range of a station.
“Reducing service to only four days a week would be better than driving to Kimberly,” Bourne said. “If I had to do that, I probably wouldn’t go every day.”
Agseed employee David Christiansen, who walked across U.S. Highway 30 in Hansen to get the company mail, agreed.
“If they’d start delivering in town, it’d be fine,” Christiansen said. “But if they’re in money trouble, I don’t think they’d do that.”
The USPS is in money trouble. In 2010 it reported a loss of more than $8.5 billion, up from $3.9 billion in 2009. It reports losing $23 million a day, so — even after closing 2,000 offices — it projects a $7 billion loss this year.
The USPS does not receive taxpayer money to run its more than 36,000 offices. It is self-supported and is borrowing money from the U.S. Treasury to pay its debts.
Last year, it closed almost 500 offices and developed a list of around 160 more to shutter, mainly branch facilities near larger metro areas.
Laura Lundquist may be reached at email@example.com or 735-3376.