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Soldiers are shown arriving in Russia in September 1918. (Photo courtesy of Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Postal officials faced a contentious crowd Monday over potential plans for major changes at the only mail processing and distribution center in the Upper Peninsula.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Postal Service announced it was doing a facility review at the Kingsford plant, with an eye on converting it to a local processing center. That move would mean almost all mail from the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin would be sent to Green Bay, Wis., even if bound for another location within the region.

Lance Markley, with USPS’s strategic planning and implementation, was quick to reassure the more than 100 who attended at Pine Mountain Ski and Golf Resort that the meeting was to present initial findings. No final decision had been made, he said.

Markley pointed out that USPS had opted not to go forward with the switch in Buffalo, N.Y., based on public feedback, though a scan of the USPS Mail Processing Facility Review showed that and South Suburban, Ill., were the only cases in which that was the result; 23 other reviews have already ended with a decision to proceed.

Garry Tottress, a USPS senior division director, provided details on the plan, much of which had been previously stated. The USPS would convert the Kingsford facility to a local processing center, with an investment of $3 million to $5 million in the site, including $1.25 million for a new “state-of-the-art” sorting machine and $2.5 million for modernization efforts and deferred maintenance. In the end, the investment could reach $6 million to $8 million.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, addresses U.S. Postal Service officials during Monday’s meeting at Pine Mountain Ski and Golf Resort on the initial findings of the postal service’s Kingsford facility review.

The review is part of a $40 billion nationwide investment strategy — the Delivering for America plan — to “upgrade and enhance” USPS’s postal processing, distribution and transportation network. It would save USPS an estimated $1.1 million to $1.5 million annually at the Kingsford facility, Tottress said.

Both USPS officials stressed the conversion would keep the center open and not result in any layoffs of career employees, though they did acknowledge some may need to be re-assigned. No management would be affected.

Tottress took time to address the “misinformation and disinformation” about the plan, such as that it will slow down mail delivery, noting it should still make the two-day service window.

But that claim didn’t land well with the audience, which included a host of local postal workers and federal and state lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman.

“What might work in the big city, what might work in a major metropolitan area, won’t work here,” Bergman told Markley.

An aide for Bergman later pointed out the one-day mail’s vital role in getting medications to patients in rural areas, especially veterans, only to hear that Markley was unaware Iron Mountain had the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center.

State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, berated the USPS for the “incredibly dishonest and duplicitous information” about the plans, which he said were couched in industry jargon and bureaucratic wording designed to be vague, confusing and misleading. The rumors about the plan, he added, sprang up because USPS was “not speaking to us in plain language.”

McBroom, along with others, pointed out USPS already had altered its service in the region by cutting mail truck pickup runs, which has eliminated the ability to have USPS next-day mail delivery in most of the Upper Peninsula.

That move was made Jan. 8 with little warning, said Dr. Bette Premo of White Water Associates in Amasa. As a result, drinking water samples that by federal law must be received within 24 hours for testing are exceeding that window, resulting in canceled samples.

Premo said after they lost overnight Priority Mail, her office had to contact individual post offices to determine how early in the morning local health officials had to bring water samples in to get them to Amasa on time. Most “are telling us there is no more one-day service in the U.P. anymore,” Premo said.

This affects not just health departments but all systems that require drinking water testing, residential and commercial.

“We need to know if this is a necessary change by USPS or is it an attempt to make an economic decision in a part of the country that they think will not miss it or need it, which too often happens in the Upper Peninsula,” Premo said, reading from a prepared statement.

Tony Edlebeck, the now-retired Kingsford city manager, said they worked with Premo to establish the quick lab service that now is in jeopardy.

Ron Wilinski, who retired in 2005 after 14 years as postmaster in the community and was instrumental in getting the Kingsford center established, said this is the third time USPS has targeted the facility for changes. In the past, Green Bay balked at trying to process the additional mail, he added.

He predicted most local mail will take far longer than the two days predicted because it will be of lesser priority in Green Bay.

The USPS will continue to accept written comments on the plan through April 16 at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/mpfr-iron-mountain-mi.


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