Lostine post office faces cuts

February 22, 2013 10:22 am

by KATY NESBITT / The Observer 

Nationwide reorganization has Wallowa County town at risk of losing service

LOSTINE — Lostine is the next Wallowa County city at risk of losing its post office in a nationwide reorganization of the U.S. Postal Service. 

Next week, post office representatives will meet with community members regarding changes in service, including the possibility of losing rural service and closing the post office.

Gay Behnke lives seven miles from Lostine and would have to drive 30 miles round trip for mailing services.

“I think it would be a terrible detriment to this community,” said Behnke. “I don’t think what people realize is that we would lose our zip codes and the financial implication of changing legal documents like mortgages, loans and wills.”

Lostine Mayor Krag Norton, a life-long resident who owns three businesses and employs up to 17 people seasonally, said when a town loses its post office, it also begins to lose its identity.

“I’d hate to see it happen; another thing that dies in your community. I realize there’s no money for lots of stuff, but if people stop going to the post office and drive to Wallowa or Enterprise they will stop going to Crow’s as well.”

M. Crow and Co. has been the village’s mercantile since 1907 and is just a few yards from the post office.

“If this post office is not here, this town is going to turn into a ghost town. I am very concerned; if you don’t have a post office, this town is going to die. People will go on to Enterprise and do their shopping up there,” said Vicky Hook, Crow’s manager.

Norton said reducing hours and stopping Saturday service is hard for people with work schedules.

“For people who work for a living, Saturday is the only time they have to go someplace to run errands or on their lunch hour,” Norton said.

Gena Young lives in Lostine and has received her mail at the Lostine Post Office for 33 years.

“If the hours were reduced, I wouldn’t be able to get my packages because of my work schedule, except Fridays,” she said.

With only one person on staff, the post office is already closed from noon to 12:30 p.m. so Bernice Lathrop, postmaster relief, can have a quick lunch break.

Jessica Campbell of the Rural Organizing Project in Scappoose said her organization got involved about a year and a half ago when local post offices were on a list for closure.

“Back in October 2011, we got a call from a couple different gentlemen when 41 Oregon post offices were on an immediate closure list,” Campbell said. “They collected signatures from every person and business and even went to the state attorney trying to stop the closure of their post offices.”

It was during the height of the Occupy movement, said Campbell, so people staged “Occupy Our Post Office” rallies, friendly occupations outside of rural post offices. 

“Faith was galvanized — most of these towns lost their schools and everything,” Campbell said. “The post office was the last standing public building.”

In 2011, 3,700 post offices were placed on a closure list. 

“The majority of the American public wanted to keep the post office in their community,” U.S. Postal Service Spokesman Peter Hass said. “The Postal Service heard that loud and clear and adjusted the plan. Still, the changing habits of Americans, on a regular basis, have created a decline in volume and revenue.”

Now there is a list of 13,000 post offices that are under consideration for reductions in hours and service as opposed to out-and-out closures.

In a letter dated Jan. 16, the U.S. Postal Service said it has established a review process for certain post offices known as the “POST Plan” and Lostine is among those evaluated under its criteria.

Best case scenario, the post office will have reduced hours, the letter said. The worst case, according to the letter, service will be discontinued to everyone in the zip code range, forcing residents to drive to Wallowa, eight miles from downtown Lostine, or to Enterprise, 10 miles away.

Fears arose over losing the Imnaha Post Office with the initial 2011 closure list. If it closed, residents would have to travel between 30 and 60 miles one way to Joseph for postal services. So far, the office has been saved, but may go to reduced hours in 2014, said Postmaster Bonnie Marks.

Norton said when he drove through Silvies in Harney County the post office was replaced by a large, white box with individual post office boxes for each resident to access with a key and he doesn’t want to see that happen to his town.

“It would be an inordinate loss, not like closing one in a city,” Behnke said. “It’s a gathering place where there is a sense of community.”