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U.S. Postal Service: Bemidji mail processing to end; more cuts possible

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Several mail processing centers used to sort mail across the region - including Bemidji's - are among more than 250 on the chopping block next spring under plans by the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service.

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Four Minnesota centers - Bemidji, Duluth, Rochester and Waite Park - will close, along with a facility in Grand Forks, N.D.

And the cuts may not end there.

"We don't know if St. Cloud is going to stay open," said Peter Nowacki, a USPS district manager in Minnesota.

Previously, a USPS feasibility study supported consolidating sorting operations from Bemidji to St. Cloud. On Monday, Nowacki said St. Cloud will be analyzed to determine if further cuts could be made and sorting services moved to Minneapolis.

The St. Cloud study will be similar to one in Bemidji, Nowacki said, and the Postal Service will need to determine whether facilities in Minneapolis can handle sorting duties, whether there is enough capacity there to handle more, impacts to services and what potential savings might come from moving operations to Minneapolis.

The USPS plan announced Monday also said:

-- Mail processing operations will move from Bemidji to St. Cloud beginning next July.

-- Letters mailed to local addresses will be delivered the next day and there will be no change in service standards for local mail service.

-- Service to ZIP codes 562-563 and 553-555 will improve from two-day to overnight.

-- Full retail services will still be available at the Bemidji Post Office.

-- The Bemidji Business Mail Entry Unit will remain open for large volume business mailers.

Some employees may be reassigned to other vacant positions as a result of the move. Nationwide, 28,000 workers would be laid off under the plan, including about five in Bemidji. The cuts are part of $3 billion in reductions aimed at helping the agency avert bankruptcy next year. The Bemidji changes are estimated to save $662,839.

The plan technically must await an advisory opinion from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, slated for next March. But that opinion is nonbinding, and only substantial pressure from Congress, businesses or the public might deter far-reaching cuts.

"The post office is a mainstay of America, and the fact that these services will no longer be available is absolutely crazy," said Carol Braxton of Naperville, Ill., as she waited in line at a mail sorting center Monday with the holiday shipping season picking up steam.

"Well I'm not happy about them, but what else can you do with this economy? If they're getting ready to go bankrupt, it's better to cut back than to go totally bankrupt," said Deborah Butler of Brandywine, Md., who was at a Washington, D.C., post office. "You still need them."

At a news briefing in Washington, postal vice president David Williams said the post office needs to cut costs as it seeks to stem five years of red ink amid steadily declining mail volume. After hitting 98 billion in 2006, first-class mail volume is now at less than 78 billion. It is projected to drop by roughly half by 2020.

The agency already has announced a 1-cent increase in first-class mail to 45 cents beginning Jan. 22.

The Postal Service faces imminent default -- this month -- on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the Treasury for retiree health benefits and expects to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year. The cuts announced Monday would close 252 of the nation's 461 mail processing centers beginning next spring. Bemidji, while it loses its sorting center, would keep its post office.

The Postal Service initially announced in September it was studying the possibility of closing the processing centers and published a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments. Within 30 days, the plan elicited nearly 4,400 public comments, mostly in opposition.

Separate bills that have passed House and Senate committees would give the Postal Service more authority and liquidity to stave off immediate bankruptcy. But prospects are somewhat dim for final congressional action on those bills anytime soon, especially if the measures are seen in an election year as promoting layoffs and cuts to neighborhood post offices.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Several mail processing centers used to sort mail across the region - including Bemidji's - are among more than 250 on the chopping block next spring under plans by the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service.

Four Minnesota centers - Bemidji, Duluth, Rochester and Waite Park - will close, along with a facility in Grand Forks, N.D.

And the cuts may not end there.

"We don't know if St. Cloud is going to stay open," said Peter Nowacki, a USPS district manager in Minnesota.

Previously, a USPS feasibility study supported consolidating sorting operations from Bemidji to St. Cloud. On Monday, Nowacki said St. Cloud will be analyzed to determine if further cuts could be made and sorting services moved to Minneapolis.

The St. Cloud study will be similar to one in Bemidji, Nowacki said, and the Postal Service will need to determine whether facilities in Minneapolis can handle sorting duties, whether there is enough capacity there to handle more, impacts to services and what potential savings might come from moving operations to Minneapolis.

The USPS plan announced Monday also said:

- Mail processing operations will move from Bemidji to St. Cloud beginning next July.

- Letters mailed to local addresses will be delivered the next day and there will be no change in service standards for local mail service.

- Service to ZIP codes 562-563 and 553-555 will improve from two-day to overnight.

- Full retail services will still be available at the Bemidji Post Office.

- The Bemidji Business Mail Entry Unit will remain open for large volume business mailers.

Some employees may be reassigned to other vacant positions as a result of the move. Nationwide, 28,000 workers would be laid off under the plan, including about five in Bemidji. The cuts are part of $3 billion in reductions aimed at helping the agency avert bankruptcy next year. The Bemidji changes are estimated to save $662,839.

The plan technically must await an advisory opinion from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, slated for next March. But that opinion is nonbinding, and only substantial pressure from Congress, businesses or the public might deter far-reaching cuts.

"The post office is a mainstay of America, and the fact that these services will no longer be available is absolutely crazy," said Carol Braxton of Naperville, Ill., as she waited in line at a mail sorting center Monday with the holiday shipping season picking up steam.

"Well I'm not happy about them, but what else can you do with this economy? If they're getting ready to go bankrupt, it's better to cut back than to go totally bankrupt," said Deborah Butler of Brandywine, Md., who was at a Washington, D.C., post office. "You still need them."

At a news briefing in Washington, postal vice president David Williams said the post office needs to cut costs as it seeks to stem five years of red ink amid steadily declining mail volume. After hitting 98 billion in 2006, first-class mail volume is now at less than 78 billion. It is projected to drop by roughly half by 2020.

The agency already has announced a 1-cent increase in first-class mail to 45 cents beginning Jan. 22.

The Postal Service faces imminent default -- this month -- on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the Treasury for retiree health benefits and expects to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year. The cuts announced Monday would close 252 of the nation's 461 mail processing centers beginning next spring. Bemidji, while it loses its sorting center, would keep its post office.

The Postal Service initially announced in September it was studying the possibility of closing the processing centers and published a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments. Within 30 days, the plan elicited nearly 4,400 public comments, mostly in opposition.

Separate bills that have passed House and Senate committees would give the Postal Service more authority and liquidity to stave off immediate bankruptcy. But prospects are somewhat dim for final congressional action on those bills anytime soon, especially if the measures are seen in an election year as promoting layoffs and cuts to neighborhood post offices.

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