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USPS announces new plan for rural post offices

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A truck drives past the the Star Tannery post office along Star Tannery Road. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Jim Steele, sales service associate for the U.S. Postal Service, stands inside the lobby of the Star Tannery post office on Tuesday. The U.S. Postal Service backed down from earlier plans to eliminate many rural post offices and now seeks to keep them open with limited hours. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

The United States Postal Service announced Wednesday that a new plan has been developed that could potentially save a number of rural offices from being closed.

Post offices in both Fishers Hill and Star Tannery had been included on the 2011 list of about 2,000 offices across the nation that were in danger of being closed.

"The plan would keep existing post offices in place, but with modified retail window hours to match customer use," stated a news release on the USPS website.

The release also stated that the USPS conducted meetings and surveys with rural constituents, and the findings were clear -- they want to keep their post offices.

The plan will have a two-year-phased implementation period, which should be completed in the fall of 2014.

"Once implementation is completed, the Postal Service estimates savings of half a billion dollars annually," the release stated.

Since 2005, post offices have seen 350 million fewer customer retail visits, according to data on the USPS website, and costs to operate the offices are only increasing.

Additionally, rural post offices are a contributing factor to the decrease in revenue, with 88 percent of them losing money.

The new plan gives rural post offices four alternative options to closing completely.

The options are: a shortened hours based on customer need, providing a delivery service using rural carriers, placing an office in a local establishment, or merging with another close-by office. USPS survey results show that 54 percent of rural customers wanted modified window hours.

In total, the USPS looked at 17,728 rural offices. 400 offices will be upgraded from their designated closure, 100 non-operating offices will close. Only 4,561 offices will continue operating eight hours a day, according to the website.

Dennis Voorhees, the Postal Service's manager of operations for Virginia, said the plan was still new to him, and that he would be briefed on further information in the next few days.

Jim Steele, a worker at the Star Tannery Post Office, said he's hopeful the outcome will be positive though he hadn't received any official information yet.

"It boils down to this: it's better to have the post office open two or three hours a day than not at all," he said. "It's all about the community identity."

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