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Friday, May 6, 2016

Area communities still fighting to keep their post offices open

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Residents of the Elizabeth area plan to attend a Dec. 15 community hearing to oppose a Postal Service proposal to close their post office. If the Elizabeth office is closed, residents say post offices in Henderson and Viola will be too far away for convenient access. A Dec. 20 hearing is also scheduled to discuss the fate of the Camp Post Office. Photo by Richard Irby
Two Fulton County communities have December appointments to try to make the case that their rural post offices should remain open, despite the financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, postal service representatives will meet with Elizabeth residents. The meeting will be held at the First Baptist Church at 5:30 p.m.

The community meeting for Camp is scheduled for Dec. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Camp Volunteer Fire Department.

At community meetings, the postal service explains that, because of a huge decline in mail volume, it lost $8.5 billion last year. With losses continuing to grow, it must close money-losing post offices and mail processing facilities, as well as reduce its workforce.

Residents are asked to fill out comment forms, which allow them to describe their post office usage, and are allowed to discuss why they believe their post office should remain open.

"People in those communities really need to respond with those comment forms," said Kathy Adams, who is involved in an appeal challenging the decision to close the Gepp Post Office. "It is very important that all customers voice their opinion and support their post office during the hearing process."

While residents of Gepp have organized and filed an appeal of a decision to close their post office, it was shut down with no warning on Sept. 8.

The postal service claimed it had to impose an "emergency suspension" of service, because the Officer in Charge of the Gepp Post Office had to take time off from work while she was being reappointed and no temporary replacement could be found.

Gepp residents cried foul and took their complaints to Washington.

Patricia Gallagher, a Public Representative assigned to assist Gepp citizens, has filed two motions with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

In the first motion, Gallagher suggests the Postal Service was wrong to close the Gepp Post Office with no notice to the public, and that it may be the first post office ever closed while a citizen appeal was underway. Gallagher explained that a post office is usually closed by an "emergency suspension" because of a threat to the public's health and safety, such as a post office damaged by a storm. She suggested the emergency closing of the Gepp Post Office because of a personnel issue sets a precedent that could be used again to short-circuit the appeal process that communities are due.

In a follow-up motion, Gallagher alerts the Regulatory Commission to more disturbing news. A postcard sent to Gepp customers claimed the emergency suspension of service was necessary because the Officer in Charge had declined reappointment and unexpectedly quit her job. Gallagher points out in her motion there is evidence the postal service claim was untrue. Gallagher was, in fact, working the day the postal service crew arrived to shut down the Gepp facility.

"The Postal Service has made confusing and conflicting statements about the reasons (for closure), and appears to have treated the OIC (Officer in Charge) shabbily," Gallagher writes.

In addition, Gallagher points out that, while the postal service wants to close the Gepp office to save money, it failed to disclose it is under a long-term lease at its location that must be paid through Aug. 13, 2017, whether the office is in operation or not.

Gallagher is asking the Regulatory Commission to remand the Gepp case, send it back to the Postal Service and tell it to correct violations of its own policies and any unfair treatment of the Gepp community.

"We are still fighting for the Gepp Post Office. We haven't given up yet," Karen Adams said.

In Washington, Patricia Gallagher told The News she is "hoping for the best" - that her motion will cause the Regulatory Commission to address evidence the Gepp community has not been treated fairly and act to insure that other communities do not face the same treatment.

"A witness in another (post office closure) case referred to the Gepp situation during testimony," Gallagher said. "Whether a post office is losing money or not, the postal service must follow due process to ensure all communities are treated fairly as post offices are considered for closure."

Almost 200 Arkansas post offices are on the latest list of offices the postal service wants to close. So far, in our area, the Wideman and Pineville Post Offices in Izard County have been closed after going through the hearing process.

Residents of Sturkie are currently waiting for a decision on their post office's fate.

During an Oct. 19 community meeting, residents pointed out that revenue at their post office has increased each of the last four years. State Rep. Lori Benedict and members of Sturkie's growing Amish community argued that Amish residents would face great inconvenience and danger traveling to Salem by horse or horse and buggy for postal service if the Sturkie Post office is closed.

If a recommendation to close the post office is made, Sturkie residents will have the right to file an appeal.

Kathy Adams encouraged residents of Elizabeth and Camp to attend their December hearings, because post offices that do not generate strong community support are almost sure to close.

While at least nine Arkansas post offices have been closed, the hearing process has resulted in 15 others being removed from the closure list and they remain open.

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