EAGLE COUNTY - Some of the county's more remote post offices may not have to close after all.
The U.S. Senate Wednesday was expected to approve a bill called the "21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012," an effort to help the U.S. Postal Service offset some of its multi-billion-dollar annual losses of the last few years.
That bill carried an amendment, from Colorado Senator Mark Udall, that requires the postal service to keep open several rural post offices for at least another year. That list includes Eagle County post offices in Red Cliff, Bond and Burns, all of which are being evaluated for possible closure. The Burns post office had actually landed on the closure list, but that decision is being appealed.
In Red Cliff, Mayor Scott Burgess said keeping that post office open is a critical part of civic life in that town.
"Having a post office in a rural area like Red Cliff is essential," Burgess said. "It's the main source of information for people."
Everything from official town notices to notes about community events end up on the blackboard inside the post office.
Besides, Burgess said, "We've got the best post office in Eagle County here. If you get a package to your street address instead of your box, (Postmaster Diane Cisneros) will hold it out for you."
While the postal service has been replacing full-service post offices with boxes in those areas, services like package delivery and pick-up are a source of worry for some rural postal customers.
Marge Gates and her husband, Bud, live near Burns, in northwestern Eagle County. Marge Gates said she worries about the businesses in that part of the county that receive a lot of packages through the mail, especially if the post office is replaced by an outdoor structure with postal boxes in it.
Postal service spokesman David Rupert said he understands why rural residents worry about losing their post offices. But, he said, almost all postal business can be conducted online. And, he added, the postal service's business model just doesn't make sense right now.
With years of big losses, the future of the entire postal system is at stake, he said.
"Those people's passions should be about saving this whole institution," Rupert said.
In a Wednesday conference call, Udall said the Senate bill has some concrete elements in it that can put the postal service on a more solid financial footing.
The biggest is a provision to allow the postal service to fund 80 percent, instead of 100 percent, of future retiree benefits.
"No other government agency or business does that," Udall said.
That alone will save the postal service about $2 billion a year. That's a start, although postal service losses have been in the $5 billion range the past few years.
But, Udall said, the bill will also allow the postal service to change its business model to make it more competitive with private delivery services. The bill would allow people to send liquor through the mail and would also allow postal clerks to expand business into hunting and fishing license sales, and, perhaps, take over some other local and state government functions.
"There are experts who believe that unleashing the postal service can make it competitive," Udall said. The challenge, he said, is for Congress to create a sustainable business model for the postal service.
While legislative work continues, people closer to the problem can only wait for the results.
"We drive six miles to get our mail right now," Bud Gates said. "We make a lot of sacrifices to live out here. I don't think we need to make any more."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.