Thursday, August 6, 2009

Officials Quickly React to Possible Post Office Closings

Howard Beach, Ridgewood Among Locations Eyed

By Conor Greene

After announcing that 53 post office stations across the city were being considered for closure, including branches in Howard Beach and Ridgewood, the United States Postal Service has reduced that list to 14 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens.

Faced with a sharp drop-off in business, in part due to e-mail, the USPS initially announced that nearly 700 branches nationwide were being studied for possible closure. Under that plan, 16 Queens post office branches were in jeopardy, including Station B on 159th Avenue in Howard Beach and the Fresh Pond Road branch in Ridgewood.

Other area offices that were being considered under the plan included Astoria, Long Island City, East Elmhurst, College Point, Jackson Heights and Corona. Word of the potential closures quickly spread to local officials who vowed to fight back against the plan.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) blasted the USPS for basing its analysis on the number of other post offices within a five-mile radius and for failing to discuss the closure plan with local community leaders. The USPS now says that no final decisions regarding closures will be made before October and the public will be given the chance to weigh in on the plan before then.

“New York is a city of neighborhoods and at the center of each community is a post office,” said Weiner. “The USPS is mailing it in if they think we will stand by while they shut us out of essential services New Yorkers rely on." After the USPS announced the scaled back plan, Weiner added: “The way the USPS has released information in dribs and drabs, it’s no wonder that they have been losing business. If their intention was to raise alarms, what they’ve really done is raise questions about their management.”

The plan to close Station B, which would have forced customers to use the branch at Cross Bay Boulevard and 160th Avenue, was blasted by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton.

“The post office near Coleman Square… is a vital lifeline for our area. Without this post office, residents would have to travel a great distance to access postal services,” the councilman said in a statement. “The lack of adequate transportation in the area, combined with the significant distance to the nearest alternative post office… would place an undue burden on residents.”

Braton recalled a similar fight to keep Station B open nearly a decade ago, and urged local residents to use that branch to justify its continued operation. “Station B serves a need for people in Howard Beach for whom it is difficult to get to Cross Bay Boulevard,” said Braton. “A number of years ago the Postal Service tried to close Station B. At that time the effort was stopped because the community rallied together to ensure that Station B was used [enough] to stay open. It looks like once again we need to make a conscious effort to ensure that all of us are using it.”

In Ridgewood, having two branches is necessary in order to serve the demands of the community, which includes a large immigrant population that uses the UPSP, said Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano. “I think that considering the size of the Ridgewood population, having two post offices is probably necessary, since you’re talking about considerably more than 60,000 people living here,” he said. “To have two branches doesn’t seem like a waste. Myrtle is always packed and I’m told that Fresh Pond Road, for a portion of the day, is very busy.”

Despite a 2-cent increase in the price of stamps and cost saving measures including staff cuts, the USPS is facing a loss of as much as $7 billion this fiscal year. In response to declining revenues, Postmaster General John Potter has asked Congress for approval to reduce deliveries from six days a week to five.

The Postal Service was added to the Government Accountability Office’s list of troubled agencies, which determined, “Every major postal policy, from employee pay to days of delivery, to the closing of postal facilities must be on the table. Without major changes, the day will soon come when the Postal Service will be unable to pay its bills.”

Last year, the number of pieces of mail delivered fell 9.5 billion to 203 billion items. That number is expected to drop by another 28 billion items this year. While the list of branches eyed for possible closure has been reduced, USPS officials said as many as 300 more locations could be added.

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