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Post offices in north country won’t close

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The U.S. Postal Service has shelved a plan to close about a dozen north country post offices and instead will cut hours at many more.

The Postal Service’s original proposal, which would have saved $200 million, was met with backlash from members of Congress who represent rural areas. Those legislators applauded the move Wednesday.

“I am glad to see the USPS offer a compromise to keep rural post offices open in the region, and I believe we have the beginning of a plan that will hopefully cut costs and preserve services,” said Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, in an email statement.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a conference call with reporters that he spoke with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe on Tuesday and was pleased to hear of the compromise.

“It’s going to be very, very good news for our rural post offices,” he said.

The wrangling comes amid dire financial times for the Postal Service, which has a $20 billion budget hole, is considering cutting Saturday service and could lay off hundreds of thousands of workers.

Restructuring the Postal Service’s rural post offices could mean shared postmasters for the state’s smallest communities.

That opportunity could be available if postmasters take an early retirement incentive and their former positions become absorbed by another postmaster at a neighboring post office.

Maureen P. Marion, public affairs specialist for the Postal Service’s Albany district, said postmasters would be offered a retirement incentive as the system moves toward reducing hours at thousands of post offices. There are about 32,000 post offices nationwide, 17,000 of which were studied, and about 13,000 will experience changes.

“Some smaller post offices would become administered by, or have oversight by, a hub post office, or an administrative postmaster,” Ms. Marion said.

Overall, the reduction of post office hours nationwide, expected staffing changes to part-time employment and expected postmaster retirements would save the postal system $500 million within the initial two-year period, she said.

The Postal Service has consistently lost billions of dollars per year for the past few years as mail volume has declined. Ms. Marion said the Postal Service will continue to look for ways to control costs.

An original proposal included closure of thousands of small and rural post offices throughout the nation, including about a dozen in the north country. Ms. Marion said the Postal Service didn’t go that route because it listened to what the people wanted — their own post office in their own community.

“It really is looking to be responsible to communities,” she said. “People said, ‘We need our post office.’ The Postal Service continues to shift its size and shape. We believe this package restructures the post offices in a way that’s needed. Community identity and all of that are served with this plan.”

Ms. Marion said the upcoming changes are just some of many that are to come. With the losses the Postal Service faces, she said, “this isn’t the end of what we’re looking at.”

She said she did not yet have a projected loss for 2012.

According to a statement the Postal Service released Wednesday, while retail window hours will be modified, access to retail lobby and post office boxes would remain unchanged, and the towns’ ZIP codes would be retained. The new strategy will be implemented over a two-year, multiphase approach and will not be completed until September 2014.

The following north country post offices will see their hours of operation cut from eight hours a day to four, according to information provided by Mr. Schumer’s office: Antwerp, Beaver Falls, Belleville, Brier Hill, Chase Mills, Constableville, Cranberry Lake, DeKalb Junction, Deferiet, Depauville, Dickinson Center, Ellisburg, Felts Mills, Fine, Hailesboro, Henderson Harbor, Mannsville, Natural Bridge, North Lawrence, Parishville, Piercefield, Pierrepont Manor, Rensselaer Falls, Richville, Rodman, South Colton, Three Mile Bay, Turin, West Leyden and West Stockholm.

The following north country post offices will see their hours of operation cut from eight hours a day to six: Brasher Falls, Colton, Hammond, Hannawa Falls, Henderson, LaFargeville, Lewis, Lisbon, Lyons Falls, Madrid, Morristown, Philadelphia, Redwood, Star Lake and Winthrop.

The following north country post offices will see their hours cut from eight hours a day to two: Chippewa Bay, DePeyster, Fishers Landing, Martinsburg, Newton Falls and Wanakena. The Pyrites post office would have its hours cut from six hours to two hours. The Lorraine post office would drop from six hours a day to four.

A Lorraine resident cheered the announcement.

“It’s wonderful news,” said Susan M. Paine, who had protested the closure with her husband, Dean. The town’s branch was first considered for closure in April 2011.

Mrs. Paine had become one of the leaders in protesting the closure after it was first proposed. In addition to writing several letters to the Postal Regulatory Commission, she called state and federal representatives to seek help to preserve the post office.

She said the post office’s closure would have meant a prohibitively long drive for town residents to what would have been the nearest post office in Adams, a trip that for some would have stretched 18 miles each way.

She also stressed the importance of the branch’s placement in downtown Lorraine, which has seen most of its business clear out.

“Without the post office, you wouldn’t really have anything,” Mrs. Paine said. “It’s the hub. That’s where people meet.”

She wasn’t bothered by the drop in hours.

“We can live with that,” she said. “That’s all right.”

Times staff writer Gordon Block contributed to this report.

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