- ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ Seven Days
- Vermont mail that was routed through Connecticut
Postal officials said they plan to hold public hearings on the proposal, which would move the letter-sorting operation from facilities in Essex Junction and White River Junction to Hartford, 250 miles south of Vermont’s largest city.
“That has already started happening,” said Stephen Doherty, a Boston-based communications specialist for the postal service. Letters mailed in Vermont are being routed through sorting facilities in White River Junction, Essex Junction or Hartford, he said.
The Postal Service has been looking for years for ways to cut costs and streamline its services. In a 2021 report called Delivering for America, the Postal Service projected it would lose $160 billion by 2030 if it didn’t become more efficient. The government entity hasn’t been able to cover its expenses for more than 15 years, mostly because of drops in demand for first-class mail, its most profitable product.
Moving some mail-sorting services from Vermont to Connecticut is part of a complex plan to streamline sorting and distribution, now handled at hundreds of locations, into about 60 large centers around the country, Doherty said.
"White River Junction is still going to be there; Essex Junction is still going to be there," Doherty said of the existing facilities. "They’ll be processing mail for Vermont, but they won't be processing the mail people in Vermont are sending to other parts of the country; that will all go down to Hartford."Doherty said this week that the Postal Service will hold public hearings on the plan in March, though it’s too early to say when and where. He said the centers in White River Junction and Essex Junction would be renovated for package-sorting and other purposes.
Doherty said Vermont mail would be picked up in the afternoon and processed overnight in Connecticut.
“The fact that it has to go to Hartford to be processed isn’t going to delay the mail at all,” he said in an interview. “Whether you were sending a letter from White River Junction to Burlington or from White River Junction to New York, that’s going to be processed and probably delivered the next morning.”
"Now they can put more parcel processing into those facilities," Doherty said. He added that no layoffs were expected.
Mail has been a hot topic in Vermont for years. Many people regularly report on social media that they’re only receiving mail deliveries two or three times a week. Several Montpelier residents said they went nearly two weeks without mail delivery after a carrier retired in January. In the face of spotty or incomplete information from the postal service, many people rely on their mail carriers for information and report their findings to neighbors on social media.
The result is widespread empathy for mail carriers and a lack of confidence in the officials running the postal service. Meredith Breiland of Milton, who has noticed a Hartford, Conn., cancellation stamp on some of her local mail, has started dropping off cards at her parents' home in Williston instead of mailing them.
“It used to seem like a miracle that for so little money you could mail something across the country,” Breiland said. “Now I’m like, ‘Between unknown delivery times and the cost and inconvenience, should I just not use the postal service?’”
Vermont’s congressional delegation has been working to publicize the state’s many mail-related problems. In December, Sens. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to nominate people for two vacancies on the 11-person Postal Service Board of Governors “who understand mail delivery challenges facing rural areas.”
Along with five colleagues, the two Vermont senators said they wanted board members to hold Postmaster General Louis DeJoy accountable for the poor mail service in rural communities. The postal service, they said, hasn’t devoted enough money to package sorting or overtime payment.
"It seems like they’re getting ready to proceed with this plan," White said. "Why collect community feedback if they don’t care what the community says?”
Many of the problems customers face in Montpelier stem from the loss of the Capital City's downtown post office in the July flooding. In January, Vermont's congressional delegation held a rally at the site to draw attention to the plight of residents who had been served by two temporary trailers that closed without notice, forcing them to travel to Barre to collect their mail. Earlier this month, the postal service opened a temporary location at the Berlin mall.
Doherty said the flooding damage at the Montpelier federal building is expected to be repaired within two years. Meanwhile, federal officials are looking at other properties in downtown Montpelier for a post office, said Jennifer Fitch, the state’s commissioner of buildings and general services. Fitch said on February 4 that her office had provided the postal service with four possible locations in late December, including a site owned by VSECU on State Street and a former granite shed owned by a real estate development firm.