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Christopher Bjorke, Forum Communications Co., Published December 20 2011

Grand Forks mail center could stay open, merge with one in Devils Lake

GRAND FORKS – The U.S. Postal System is considering a plan that would keep the Grand Forks mail processing center open but close its Devils Lake center, merging the two operations.

The USPS announced Monday that it has begun the evaluation process for the plan.

Pete Nowacki, the Minneapolis-based spokesman for the Postal Service for the Dakotas, said that the new plan did not mean the Grand Forks center was off the table for closing as part of a cost-saving plan to eliminate 252 of 487 processing centers nationwide.

“It’s entirely possible that it could all go to Fargo,” he said. “We’re always looking at the network as a whole and looking for savings where we can find them.”

The postal service is not leaning toward one option over the other, Nowacki said.

A spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said that the postal system’s Dakota District Office in Sioux Falls, S.D., told the senator Monday that the review of the Grand Forks facility is on hold for now.

“What we’ve done is we’ve managed to get them to take another look here,” said spokesman Don Canton. “Grand Forks at this point is on hold to even move through the process.”

Mergers and savings

The Postal Service announced earlier this month that it would proceed with the consolidation plan that could merge the Grand Forks and Devils Lake centers with Fargo’s and Minot’s with Bismarck’s. The plan could also combine Duluth’s operations with St. Paul’s.

It has already made a decision to merge Bemidji’s center with St. Cloud’s, unless that center is merged with the one in Minneapolis, Nowacki said.

According to a statement by the postal service, the consolidation of the two facilities would save $220,911 a year in operations, maintenance and transportation costs.

The merger of the Devils Lake center with Grand Forks’ would eliminate one of 15 jobs in Devils Lake, Nowacki said. Under the Postal Service’s contract with employees, workers are guaranteed jobs in the postal system, but not necessarily where they live.

Brock Engstrom, North Dakota’s representative with the National Postal Mailhandlers Union, said that employees whose jobs are moved would have the choice of moving with them or taking other jobs.

Engstrom said that his union had little say in the consolidation process or leverage with the Postal Service.

“They don’t actually ask us for our advice,” he said.

Public meetings

The Postal Service is scheduling meetings in affected towns for the public to comment on the plans. Engstrom said that his union encourages the public to attend those events, but usually does not participate. A meeting in Devils Lake is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 4 in Devils Lake High School.

No meetings have been scheduled yet for Grand Forks processing center. Nowacki said that should not be an indication that the facility is out of consideration for closure.

“I don’t think we can say that any move is definitely off the table at this point,” Nowacki said.

The Postal Service has stated that it will not close any facilities before May 15, though decisions on facilities could be announced earlier.

Christopher Bjorke writes for the Grand Forks Herald