Upper Valley residents pan post office plan to move mail sorting to Connecticut

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-27-2024 6:58 PM

LEBANON — Upper Valley residents and postal workers voiced objection to a proposal this week by the U.S. Postal Service to move mail sorting operations for the region from White River Junction to Connecticut, saying the plan will create further delays in mail delivery and undercut the quality of postal services.

Over 70 people attended a public forum on Tuesday in Lebanon to discuss a proposed reconfiguration of the White River Junction post office, which collects, sorts and dispatches mail for 150 post offices in Vermont and New Hampshire, including all the towns in the Upper Valley.

Many residents challenged the efficiency of the plan, saying that a large portion of mail will require two additional vehicle trips totaling at least four hours and nearly 300 miles.

“Mail that (stays within) this local region should stay in White River Junction,” said Amelia Lantz, of Grantham. “That is the most efficient, effective and the most service-oriented way to keep the Postal Service modern and effective and relevant.”

Lantz said that many residents rely on the mail for paying bills and their prescription drugs.

USPS is studying facilities across the country, including White River Junction, to determine the logistics of shifting mail processing operations from smaller regional hubs to larger facilities that would be provided additional staff and sorting equipment to handle mail and packages of multiple regions.

The USPS plan, called Delivery for America, is a 10-year, $40 billion reorganization strategy aimed to improve efficiency and lower operating costs.

USPS had a $6.5 billion deficit last fiscal year, Christine Brisk, a senior director of processing operations for New England, said on Tuesday. An initial findings report issued on March 19 estimated that moving White River Junction’s mail sorting operations to Hartford, Conn., will save up to $940,000 a year.

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The plan could eliminate up to 20 positions, including one manager, at the White River Junction facility, though this number may be reduced depending on the final plan — which could add new operations to White River Junction such as package sorting, Brisk said.

While the report cited only a reduction of six positions at White River Junction, Brisk said that number might have meant the net reduction after factoring positions that would be added in Hartford.

Under the plan, outgoing mail from Upper Valley communities to White River Junction would then be sent to Connecticut for sorting. White River Junction would dispatch incoming mail, once sorted in the Nutmeg State, to the post offices in its service area.

Additional vehicle travel, especially during winter storms, could further delay mail delivery.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that this is going to be economically helpful with the post office’s reputation,” said Georgia Tuttle, of Lebanon. “Sometimes it takes 10 days (for mail) to get to where it’s supposed to. … My service has been pretty lousy in the last 10 years, not because of the people here but because of a lack of funding out of Washington.”

Brisk pointed out that White River Junction has already been sending its weekend mail collections to Connecticut for sorting since November. In addition, White River Junction has been sending packages to Nashua for processing for the last 15 years.

In sending outgoing letters to Hartford in aggregate, “we’re building economies of scale, just like we are in Nashua with the packages,” Brisk said.

But these systems have already caused unnecessary delivery delays, attendees said.

Bev Owen, of White River Junction, said it took three weeks for a package to arrive from Burlington because it was misrouted in Nashua to a facility in Massachusetts.

Had the White River Junction facility been equipped to sort packages, Owen said, she would have received it in about four days, based on the online tracking record.

“So what makes you think that I’m going to be (confident about sending) my rent check, which has a certain time frame to reach my landlord before I’m charged a late fee?” Owen said.

Many residents said they worried that USPS’s plan is more likely to hurt the quality of services by cutting staff and resources rather than to improve delivery.

“You can and you should improve and modernize (operations) … but this can be done without gutting what exists and without creating so much delay,” said Gail Kinney, minister of Meriden Congressional Church.

Kinney said she worries that USPS’s leadership ultimately wants to privatize the postal service.

“And because we fear that that’s what (the) long-term vision really is (there) is this tremendous sense of distrust in what this (plan) is really about.”

The 10-year plan is also aimed to modernize the postal service’s operations to align with changes in the public’s use of mail delivery, said Stephen Doherty, a USPS communications specialist.

Letter mail volumes have declined due to the use of email and online payment options while package volumes have grown due to online shopping, Doherty said on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately our transportation network and our facilities are set up for the way people used the mail service 40 years ago,” Doherty said. “We have half-empty trucks zigzagging all over the country. This isn’t cost effective. We need to retool and realign our network based on the way people use the mail (now).”

USPS held the forum to gather public feedback prior to publishing a final recommendation on the White River Junction facility.

Community members may also submit written comments online through April 10 at surveymonkey.com/r/mpfr-white-river-junction-vt.

USPS has so far completed 23 studies of processing and distribution centers around the country. All but one report — for a facility in suburban Chicago — recommends shifting the mail processing operations to a larger regional hub.

So far no plans have been implemented and are still being reviewed by the postmaster general, Brisk said. There is not a timetable for when a plan may be decided.

Patrick Adrian may be  reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.