KEENE VALLEY - The town of Keene Supervisor will be headed to Washington, D.C. in early March to lobby government officials to re-open a post office in Keene Valley.
In the meantime, Keene Valley residents have until the end of March to send public comments to the U.S. Postal Service regarding the fate of their post office, which closed in November 2010 and may be one of thousands to permanently shut down in the U.S. this year.
Supervisor Bill Ferebee said he will be traveling to the nation's capital with Schroon Lake Town Supervisor Cathy Moses and Jay Town Supervisor/Essex County Board Chairman Randy Douglas to tell elected representatives about Essex County concerns. This is an annual trip for Essex County officials and Ferebee's fourth trip as part of the contingent.
On March 9, Ferebee has an appointment with U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and will be handing the congressman two packages regarding the closure of the Keene Valley Post Office: one with impacts to the Keene community and one with impacts to the Keene Valley community.
The Keene Valley Post Office, zip code 12943, closed because a lease agreement with the building's owner terminated and was not renewed. Residents are now forced to travel outside their hamlet for most postal service needs, and the nearest post office is 5 miles away in Keene. About 100 residents were told at a Feb. 8 public meeting at the Keene Valley firehouse that the USPS will not be building a new post office and other options need to be weighed in order to serve the year-round and seasonal population.
So far, the impact to Keene Valley residents has been one of inconvenience and the lack of a social center, according to Ferebee. And the impact on Keene has been one of space issues inside a "cramped" post office and of traffic safety.
"It's just an accident waiting to happen," Ferebee said.
The supervisor encourages town residents to send public comments regarding the post office situation to the USPS and to him, so he can hand those concerns to Rep. Gibson.
"The Postal Service welcomes comments from the public," said Postal Service Public Affairs Specialist Maureen Marion in a phone interview.
Comments to the USPS may be sent in the form of recommendations or testimonials as to the impacts on Keene and Keene Valley. The 60-day public comment period comes to a close at the end of March. At that time, the Postal Service managers will sift through the collection of comments and make a formal recommendation to USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to Marion. There is no timeline for a decision from D.C., but it could take several months.
"It is always difficult," Marion said. "We know that communities and post offices have a very strong bond."
At the same time, the Postal Service must look at their operations through a "business lens," she said. As USPS officials face revenue shortfalls due to the public's increasing use of electronic mail over snail mail, they are looking to streamline postal operations throughout the nation.
Part of those cost-savings measures will include phasing out post offices that are no longer needed. For example, postal regulators announced last week that they were shutting down the Delaware Station Post Office in Albany because there are post offices nearby (five post offices within a 1.7-mile radius) that can offer the same services. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the USPS is looking to close upwards of 2,000 post offices in 2011. But that doesn't mean the USPS has issued a mandate to close a certain amount of post offices, according to Marion, and any closure process takes time. That number reflects what the USPS could do; it is not a goal.
"The Postal Service is at a critical financial crossroad," Marion said. "We can't afford to build new buildings, and we can't always find a local business partner (to lease post office space)."
In all these cases, the Postal Service is looking to make their operational "footprint smaller while offering the same services," she said. As they work to streamline all phases of mail service, that may also include closing some postal processing facilities.
The Postal Service is faced with a similar situation in the Hamilton County hamlet of Sabael, south of Indian Lake, where the building that housed the post office was destroyed by fire on Jan. 28. The 79 box holders from Sabael are now being serviced at the Indian Lake Post Office, and prospects for a lease agreement in Sabael appear slim at this time, Marion said.
Keene Valley residents wishing to express their thoughts about the Keene Valley Post Office can send their comments to the Albany district manager of Consumer Affairs and Claims: David Desrosiers, 30 Karner Road, Albany, NY, 12288-9631 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, they can be sent to Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee at P.O. Box 89, Keene, NY 12942 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Phone calls to the town office (576-4444) are also welcome.