Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Washouts: Many post offices shuttered by storms in 2011 never reopened

Not all is well in Endwell

The post offices along the Susquehanna River in the Southern Tier of New York did not fare well in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee.

Endwell, New York: population 11,000
Post office established: 1921.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

Tioga Center, New York
Post office established: 1893.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

Barton, New York
Post office established: 1827.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

Further upstate, Fort Hunter did little better.

First post office established: 1827.
Second post office established: 1868.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

I've visited several of these offices post-suspension. In the case of Endwell and Tioga Center, mail collection points were removed but signage was still intact well after the fact. Above, the Endwell branch post office one year after suspension. Below, Tioga Center nearly four years afterward. In next-door Barton (below that), the site was vacant as the building was destroyed entirely.

Just a couple of weeks prior to Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Irene battered parts of the Northeast, with several offices closing Aug. 28, 2011. In Milltown, New Jersey, the post office operated out of a Mobile Postal Unit adjacent to the flooded-out building until it reopened in early 2013. Wayne, New Jersey (pop. 55,000), on the other hand, has been operating without its main postal facility for six years. Nearby Hanover Township (pop. 14,000) expected the post office in Whippany to reopen not long after the storm; that has been anything but the case.

After years of delay, Hanover Township officials effectively gave up. In 2012 the Hanover Eagle reported that USPS's Northern New Jersey District "and the Northeast Area Facilities Services Office are reviewing all options regarding the Whippany Post Office retail function, including repairs, relocation or discontinuance." Frustrations mounted as USPS refused to commit to the reopening of the Whippany facility, despite the fact that its lease was renewed for $70,000 a year, several months after the storm shuttered operations. In 2016, five years after Hurricane Irene, the "progress" Whippany residents could claim included a "new mail collection box at Town Hall in the township," and "an email address for the post office branch dealing with complaints such as lost mail, late mail and other related mail service issues"; village mail, now delivered out of nearby Morristown, has been routinely delayed. Meanwhile the lease for the Whippany post office finally expired February of this year.

Whippany, NJ post office, May 2011

In Vermont, the West Hartland post office, also flooded out due to Hurricane Irene, never reopened. 2012's Hurricane Sandy left Sea Bright, New Jersey, without a post office.

As of this last month, the communities of Endwell, Tioga Center, Barton, Fort Hunter, Whippany, West Hartland, and Sun Bright no longer need worry where USPS stands and whether or not thir post offices will return. Instead of keeping the communities in a state of perpetual suspense, the Postal Service has formally discontinued each of those post offices, and announced those closures in the recent August 17 Postal Bulletin. In fact, USPS formally announced the discontinuance of 304 post offices in this Bulletin.

USPS had stopped short of outright discontinuing post offices for a couple of years, due to in large to the political backlash surrounding the Postal Service's proposal to shutter 3,700 post offices back in 2011. Instead it had been keeping facilities in a state of "emergency suspension," a status not supposed to keep post offices in a state of indefinite limbo. In response to pressure from the Postal Regulatory Commission, USPS has been studying each of the 600+ post offices suspended as of the end of its last fiscal year for formal discontinuance or possible reopening. (The process skews VERY much toward discontinuance.) An analysis of these operations shows 73 post offices listed as suspended, like those above, due to "damage."

Let's hope this pattern of extended suspensions leading to delayed discontinuance does not continue with the advent of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

1 comment:

  1. The West Hartland post office was swept right off its foundation by Irene. It was later replaced by a so-called "Village Post Office" but that has since closed, too.