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Postal Service floats idea of driving Western Slope mail to Denver and back before delivery

Angry customers, including county clerks, mayors and city managers, say proposal to modernize Grand Junction processing and save money spells trouble
Customers were unhappy to hear about the United States Postal Service's proposed plans to move some of the local operations to Denver, citing delays. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

GRAND JUNCTION – The U.S. Postal Service faced a rowdy, critical crowd Thursday in Grand Junction, a city that has yet to suffer the same delivery problems that have bedeviled smaller towns across Colorado.

The crowd, packed into a too-small meeting room at Colorado Mesa University, hooted, hollered and guffawed as Postal Service officials laid out a plan to change the Western Slope’s largest city from a regional to a local mail processing center. The crowd whistled and clapped when speaker after speaker took the microphone to criticize the plan.

The crowd had made its way to the meeting room in spite of the fact that Postal Service notices announcing the meeting had gone out with a wrong address for the meeting location.

The plan for improving mail handling in Grand Junction, as laid out by Felipe Flores, the senior director of processing operations for the Postal Service’s western division, was heavy on jargon and acronyms. It left some in the crowd of around 175 people shaking their heads and looking puzzled about what the plan would actually entail.

What did come through was a highly unpopular and derided proposal to truck local mail from Grand Junction to Denver and back over the weather, wildfire, accident and rockslide challenged Interstate 70. Flores said the mail could still be delivered in two days in spite of that detour to Denver.

For the citizens and the postal workers in the audience, that didn’t add up. Those who commented, from county clerks and mayors to mail carriers and retirees on government subsidy checks, stated that plan would bring major delays in mail service.

“I see, in the best case, a six-day delay period,” said retired postal worker Dale Ellison of Palisade. “I see in the big picture where modernization is important. But if anyone can address why the mail won’t be delayed, I would like to hear that.”

Mail from Cheyenne and North Platte, Nebraska also headed to Denver

The meeting wasn’t designed for answers. The Postal Service is collecting comments that will be submitted to the USPS before a final decision on the proposed improvements is made.

Flores spelled out a few particulars of the 10-year Delivering for America plan that would remove some sorting duties from Grand Junction as well as North Platte, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, and consolidate them in Denver.

He said machines in the Grand Junction Postal Service distribution center would be moved around to facilitate mail flow, lighting and flooring would be improved, employee common areas would get upgrades and the center would have a state-of-the-art sorting machine. He said the Postal Service is prepared to spend about $3 million on those improvements.

He said the changes to the system – including taking Grand Junction mail to Denver for processing – would save the Postal Service $2.2 million to $3 million annually. He said that no career workers in Grand Junction would lose their jobs as a result of the changes. He did not directly address relocation of jobs.

The overall goal is to save money for a postal system that has been bleeding money for the past two decades, Postal Service spokesperson James Boxrud said.

“For me personally, I’m glad we’re doing something to stop the bleeding,” said Boxrud who has worked for the Postal Service since 1995.

Flores stressed that local mail (10% of which is mailed within Grand Junction) will not be delayed and neither will election materials.

But the realities of the geography of I-70 did not jibe with audience members who spent the next two hours questioning the realities of trucking mail to Denver and back and promising no delays.

Sveto Djokic set the tone for the public comment section of the meeting when he asked of Postal Service officials, “How often have you driven I-70?” The audience loudly erupted in derision for the Postal Service assertion that driving mail to and from Denver over the Continental Divide would not result in delays.

“Numbers, numbers, numbers. I don’t see numbers here,” shouted local geologist Randy Spydell. “I don’t see the data, therefore, I feel bad about this. Where’s the damned data?”

Spydell pointed out that the comment-gathering meeting was an exercise in futility since attendees had no data to go on. He also took a shot at Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, without mentioning him by name.

“We have someone who started this who has never had any experience in the government, or in the USPS who is at the top. This is a bad trend,” he said to loud applause and cheers.

And what about voting?

Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Bobbie Gross said she is worried about delays with ballots and other county mail like vehicle registrations and tax payments that can result in fines if they aren’t delivered on time.

Glenn Pierson, who owns a bookkeeping business in Grand Junction, noted that currently he can mail paychecks to employees and they receive them the next day.

He said if those paychecks are delayed, then rent checks might be delayed causing a domino effect of bad results.

Ridgway Mayor John Clark said that the restructuring plan misses the boat on problems towns like his have faced.

He said Ridgway postal patrons went without receiving any mail in the weeks around Christmas. He said it was due to staffing shortages and pointed out that Delivering for America does not address the problem of trying to hire and retain staff in small mountain towns that have suffered the brunt of Postal Service delivery problems.

“We need to be putting money where the issue is,” Clark said.

Postal union members lobbed some of the harshest criticism at the Postal Service executives.

“This is a plan to destroy the post office, not to improve it,” said Shane McConnell, vice president of the Western Colorado Area Local 600 union of postal workers.

McConnell and about 40 other postal workers and community supporters had spent Monday afternoon waving signs outside the mail sorting facility in Grand Junction.

Their signs read “Why do you lie to the public,” “Keep Our Mail Local,” and “Save Our Post Office.”

Many vehicles passing by on busy Patterson Avenue honked in support.

Roger Daniels, president of the Local 600 union said Grand Junction postal workers are hoping public pressure will change the Postal Service’s mind on proposed changes in Grand Junction.

He said the Postal Service tried to cut services in Grand Junction 11 years ago, but a wave of criticism from postal patrons put a stop to it.

“We hope the public can stop this one,” he said.

Following the meeting, Daniels said he fears that the Postal Service isn’t really listening.

“I think the decision has already been made.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.



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