Thursday, December 12, 2013
AUGUSTA — Seven post offices on islands off Maine's coast have avoided deep cuts in their operating hours.
In this Dec. 13, 2012 file photo, the Chebeague Island Post Office. The US Postal Service was proposing a reduction in island business hours despite widespread opposition from year-round residents, but island post offices in Maine will now stay open at least six hours a day.
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
To save money, the U.S. Postal Service had targeted the post offices on Long and Chebeague islands in Casco Bay, along with post offices on North Haven, Isleboro, Cranberry Isles, Isleford and Swan's Island.
But on Tuesday, those communities learned that their post offices have been designated Part-Time Post Offices, meaning that each one will be staffed and open at least six hours a day, six days a week.
All of those post offices have been open eight hours a day in the past.
The Postal Service, which is trying to reduce huge losses, proposed reducing service at small post offices to as little as two hours a day. Long and Chebeague islands would have been reduced to four hours.
"The next step would have been to close them altogether," said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in a statement released Tuesday. "Getting these offices officially designated as Part-Time Post Offices takes them off the list for these drastic reductions in hours and gives them some long-term security."
Pingree and Rep. Mike Michaud lobbied the Postal Service for months to keep the island post offices open.
Postal service regulations require any Part-Time Post Office to be at least 25 miles from the nearest post office.
Michaud and Pingree argued that that requirement should not apply to island communities that are accessible only by ferry.
Last year, the Postal Service agreed to keep post offices on Cliff Island, Monhegan and Matinicus open for at least six hours a day.
The fate of Maine's other island post offices remained uncertain until Tuesday, when Pingree and Michaud announced that they would remain open for a minimum of six hours.
"The Postal Service recognized the unique situation faced by Maine's island communities, and I'm pleased they agreed to our request to maintain reasonable hours," Michaud said Tuesday in a prepared statement.
"Washington needs more of these types of common sense responses when it comes to addressing other challenges. A good start would be finally passing meaningful postal reform legislation that puts the Postal Service on a path to fiscal stability."
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of the Portland Press Herald.
Chebeague Island, which seceded from the town of Cumberland in 2007, has been working since then to attract residents and ensure that its small businesses prosper.
"People were very upset" at the prospect of reduced postal service, said Donna Damon, a lifelong resident of the island. "They didn't want to lose their post office."
Damon, who is a also a select- woman, said postal officials came to the island in October to present their plan for scaling back hours.
The forum ended abruptly after an earthquake shook the building.
At that meeting, the postal officials suggested that Chebeague Islanders could use post offices on Cliff, Bailey and Long islands -- all within 25 miles of Chebeague.
"I can see two of those islands from my house, but I would be hard pressed to go over to one of them and mail a letter," Damon said.
"The process seemed to be government at its worst."
Leila Bisharat, who has lived on Chebeague Island year-round for 13 years, said such a reduction in hours would have inhibited development, discouraged population growth and harmed small businesses.
"I went to the post office today and heard the good news. It is spreading like wildfire," she said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: