CB considers legal action to improve post office service

Looking for coalition partners

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

Determining that the issues with the Crested Butte Post Office are not getting better any time soon, the CB council on Monday, December 19 decided to see if any other Colorado mountain communities wanted to join them in assessing potential next steps, including possible litigation, to address problems that include long lines and paying for P.O. boxes.

“This is one of the issues people are most worked up about,” noted mayor Ian Billick. “Even if it’s not our problem, it is our problem.”

Town attorney Karl Hanlon said his research showed there are some legal options available to the town to hold the USPS to its mandate to “preserve regular and effective access to postal services in all communities, including those in rural areas or where post offices are not self-sustaining.” Legal claims would likely be made in front of the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).

Hanlon said he has had discussions with representatives of law firm Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell, a federal administrative regulatory law firm based in Denver. That firm said it would take the case and the first step would be for them to prepare a legal memorandum analyzing the Crested Butte situation in detail. The memo would cost between $25,000 and $35,000. To proceed further with a “petition for review” in front of the PRC and deal with an expected appeal would cost between $225,000 and $275,000.

When asked by Billick if the U.S. Postal Service was obligated to provide a post office in Crested Butte, Hanlon said it is basically at the agency’s discretion.

“This is one of the top conversations among CAST (Colorado Association of Ski Towns) communities,” said Hanlon, who acts as town attorney for other mountain towns. “Other similar communities are interested, and they are watching and might possibly participate in the effort. So, there is opportunity to spread out the cost, but someone has to take the lead. Does Crested Butte want to do that? It will take time and money.”

Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald is the current president of CAST and she said she would talk to other community representatives to get a feel for their level of interest and participation. 

“There is more influence in a coalition,” said Hanlon. “Collecting up Colorado communities to the extent we can is a powerful tool.”

Councilmember Beth Goldstone said the council needed to consider and be careful with the amount of time and money pursuing such an effort would take. “But I’m open to see who else is willing to help,” she said.

“Crested Butte has been one of the louder voices to get our U.S. senator’s attention on the issue,” said MacDonald. “I think we can be comfortable to get a coalition together and then work out details.”

New location progress?

In a related matter, Community Development director Troy Russ said USPS facilities representatives had called to say they are still looking at a new site in the North Valley since the lease on the current building is running out. Russ said the town was open to the USPS considering the so-called “Cosentino” site located on Gothic Road across from the Crested Butte Bank and Gothic Field.

“They wanted 11,000 square feet but won’t get it there,” Russ said. “We’re not sure of their true needs. But they understand Crested Butte’s situation and the Cosentino lot is a real possibility. We’ve said we want them to keep the Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South annex sites.

Councilmember Anna Fenerty expressed concern that even with a larger post office facility, the underlying staffing issues would remain. “If we allow them to build on a big site the town owns and we all end up with the same employee issues, would it be better to use that site for other things we need?” she asked.

“Our community needs mail,” said Billick. “The goal is to help keep and improve mail service.”

“I am hopeful that a sufficient facility would help with staff retention issues,” added MacDonald. “I think it really could help.”

“We will also be seeing challenges, especially with things like housing, with every federal agency we have here,” said Billick. “We may have to engage in ways we didn’t think about 10 years ago.”

Hanlon and MacDonald will test the waters to see if there are other rural Colorado communities that would be willing to join Crested Butte in pursuing a path to potentially helping improve the current PO situation in rural communities like Crested Butte.

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