P.O. problems continue despite local and fed efforts

Look at it as an opportunity to share time with friends?

[ By Mark Reaman ]

It is no secret that the town of Crested Butte and the United States Postal Service (USPS) have had a sometimes rocky relationship. The town makes it clear they appreciate the local workers behind the counters and stuffing the post office boxes but the regional and national representatives have been less than helpful. And help is what the town is asking for as Christmas season-sized lines are a recent daily occurrence at the Crested Butte P.O. location in the middle of town. It is not uncommon right now to have to wait up to an hour in line to get to the counter if you have the dreaded yellow slip indicating there is a package to pick up.

“The situation with failing service at our post office has been on the council’s radar for a number of years,” explained Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald. “The root of the problems in recent years seems to be tied both to an increasing number of users at this end of the valley along with the rapid increase in package deliveries related to online shopping.”

According to MacDonald, the town has made multiple attempts to reach out to the post office and push for change and to offer assistance. “We have engaged directly with Amazon regarding their contract to have the USPS provide last mile service,” she explained. “Unfortunately, it appears that the post office is content to continue to ignore the poor service in Crested Butte. The common refrain seems to be locally that their hands are tied and regionally that the income from providing last mile service for parcel delivery is more valued than customer service.

“We have offered to explore ideas for placement of additional self-serve package boxes,” MacDonald continued. “Mt. Crested Butte has attempted to engage in conversations about getting an annex or post office location again in that municipality. After much, much effort, CB South was recently able to gain approval and expand the number of post office boxes in that community. We have brought forward solutions that have worked (at least temporarily) in other mountain communities such as extended hours for parcel pick-up and the ability to hire part-time or seasonal employees and have been met with some of the most remarkable bureaucratic speak I have ever heard.”

MacDonald said the local postmasters have been instructed to not communicate with town officials and instead that should be done through the regional office. She said while she receives initial responses from post office officials when making inquiries, they quickly quit responding to her concerns. She said she has had no direct communication with the USPS since January of 2021 when they stopped responding to her emails. That was the time period when Amazon representatives stopped responding to her requests for more information as well.

The issues being experienced in Crested Butte are not unique for mountain towns. MacDonald said that many members of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST) have reported similar unfavorable experiences with their local post offices.

CAST representatives have reached out to the offices of U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper for help with at least arranging a meeting with postal service officials. MacDonald said a tentative meeting is hoped for before the end of winter.

In a letter to Colorado’s U.S. senators dated August 23 but not received until December 20 (editor’s note: you can’t make this stuff up!), USPS government relations representative Cory Brown said the USPS is “committed to providing quality service to all postal customers…we contacted Colorado-Wyoming District officials to discuss the issues raised by local municipal authorities. To that end, they are establishing a monthly videoconference meeting to maintain the lines of communication between district postal officials and representatives from Western Slope communities…In addition, district officials will conduct site visits of the Gypsum and Crested Butte Post Offices within 60 days to assess the facilities…”

MacDonald said she is “not aware of any of the actions the USPS references in the letter actually taking place. No monthly videoconference meeting and no site visit that the Town has been involved with.”

The Crested Butte News called Colorado-Wyoming District Consumer Affairs Manager Brenda Baldwin this week for a comment and update on the situation and did not receive a return phone call.

Phone calls during and after business hours to the local Crested Butte post office went to an informational recording or the line was (understandably) not picked up.

Colorado U.S. Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper are aware of the issue and are trying to address the frustrating situation. Kate Oehl, a spokeswoman for Senator Bennet’s office, said there has been communication between Senator Bennet’s office and Postal Service officials, and the senator’s office is working to elevate and underscore community concerns.

She said Senator Bennet also supports a bipartisan bill led by U.S. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan that would help put the Postal Service on a sustainable financial footing.

“We hear the main issues are employee shortages and a lack of needed funding,” Oehl explained. “It’s not just a mountain town issue, we are hearing about this from a lot of rural communities.”

The Crested Butte town council and staff have been attempting to ease the situation for years. “We have tried to engage about planning for a new facility as well as offering to work with them to find space for parcel boxes that could be self-serve, similar to those in the annex by Clark’s,” MacDonald explained. “We made no headway in either of these discussions. We have also brought up the ideas of hiring additional staff during holidays and extending hours similar to what has occurred in Breckenridge. [There are] lots of excuses why that can’t happen.

“The post office has been insistent that the Town at some point made the decision to not have home delivery, but has produced no record of this decision,” MacDonald continued. “That is the explanation they give for why our community members must pay for boxes. This is not equitable across mountain communities – each residence in Frisco gets one free box.”

There is continuous talk about trying to move the Crested Butte post office location out of the dead center of town and the owner of the building is open to the idea. Council is actively exploring other alternative locations that might work and provide more space and a less congested location.
MacDonald reiterated that the local postal employees have been dealt a bad hand and are doing the best with what they have. “The people who staff our post office are great and are making the best of a bad situation,” she concluded. “I wish that they had more support from the organization to do the job that is asked of them.”

In the meantime, rejoice when you open the box and there are only bills and not a yellow slip sitting in there.

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