Written by Chris Morris, Project Manager, Historic Post Offices
You may have heard that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is suffering from some serious debt. They are projected to rack up a deficit of over $18 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) next year alone. So, they are trying to cut costs any way they can: considering ending Saturday mail delivery, not replacing thousands of retiring postal workers, asking Congress to drop their mandate to pre-fund billions in retiree health benefits, terminating building leases, and selling their post office buildings or “relocating” their services to a new building.
And unfortunately for people in impacted communities, they’re not always forthcoming about their plans, so it’s critical for the public to get involved, know their rights, and be persistent. If the USPS decides to sell or relocate a historic post office in your town, here are ten steps you can take to protect it:
1. Find out if your post office is threatened. USPS Properties for Sale is the official list of post offices being sold -- but keep your eyes open for other signs like a survey in your mail about local postal services or legal notices in your post office about public meetings. And don’t hesitate to ask your local postmaster for information on the building’s status.
2. Know your rights. USPS regulations and U.S. Code are very clear about the procedures for relocating, discontinuing, or suspending service at a post office, and what role the public can play in making those decisions. The more you know, the more effective you can be. Check out the National Association of Postmasters of the United States (NAPUS) and its Post Office Red Book for useful information.
3. Don’t wait. Residents and postal customers need to get involved in the process as early as possible to make themselves heard. Ask your postmaster, city manager, alderman, or other elected officials if they’re aware of any plans to close or relocate your post office. If USPS has released a proposal for closure or relocation of your post office, the public has 60 days to comment on that proposal and how it affects them.
Tip: Make sure your friends, family, neighbors, local businesses, and community leaders also take advantage of these opportunities to speak out.
4. Bring friends to the party. There’s strength in numbers -- and many groups in your community that would likely be interested in preserving your post office. Reach out to business owners or business groups, the chamber of commerce, your preservation commission, fraternal organizations, historical societies, church groups, your Main Street organization, city officials and staff, and local schools.
5. Use the media. Keep local reporters, bloggers, and radio hosts apprised of any activity around your post office, whether it’s the distribution of a questionnaire, a public meeting hosted by USPS, a planning meeting of local advocates, a notice from USPS about a proposal or a decision, or even a rally that you stage to protest USPS’ actions.
6. Show up. USPS usually convenes at least one public meeting to gather public input on a proposed closure or relocation, and it is absolutely critical to have a good turnout at that meeting from post office customers, city officials, community leaders, and concerned citizens. If possible, meet with your fellow advocates in advance to discuss the agenda, identify speakers, and review talking points to make sure everyone stays focused on your key messages.
7. Become a consulting party. If your post office is in a historic building, the National Historic Preservation Act requires the USPS to consult with interested parties. Nonprofit organizations or members of the public with a “demonstrated interest” can take part by composing a formal letter to the agency’s Federal Preservation Officer. Make sure to emphasize why you or your group is interested and copy your State Historic Preservation Officer.
8. Lobby your legislators. Your state and federal senators and representatives can be some of your best allies. Call, send a letter, or -- best of all -- schedule a meeting. Bring materials that includes a brief summary of the situation, correspondence from USPS, formal responses from city officials or local advocates, and press highlights. Then, ask them to support you with a letter opposing the USPS’ proposed action.
9. Appeal the decision. Even if you rally the troops and take all the right steps, it’s still possible that USPS will still decide to sell or relocate your local post office. But that’s not the end of the road! You can -- and should -- appeal that decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).
Tip: The NAPUS Post Office Red Book provides excellent guidance on the PRC, their appeal process, and how to prepare an effective statement.
10. Help find a new use. If the PRC deems that the Postal Service adhered to their legal guidelines in their process and decision, your post office will be listed for sale. Even if it is no longer a functioning post office, it’s still an important part of your town. Ensure that the building goes into responsible hands and continues to serve your community by:
- identifying possible public and private owners and sending them information about the property;
- researching and sharing suggestions for compatible new uses that will preserve the most important features and spaces of the building; and
- locating nonprofit groups in your city or state that are qualified to hold an easement or covenant on the building.
Have you been involved in saving a post office? Tell us what worked for you!
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