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Bemidji mail delivery, sorting takes a hit; local mail won't be delivered overnight

Bemidji's mail processing center is among five in the state that will close, the U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday.

Locally, the decision affects six workers, and customers can expect delivery delays if they're sending mail to a local address, said Pete Nowacki, a Postal Service spokesman.

"It is a change and causes a lot of concern among customers," Nowacki said. "It's certainly not an easy decision for us."

Last fall, the Postal Service said operations would likely move to St. Cloud. In early December, Nowacki told the Pioneer that mail sorting operations might move to Minneapolis. On Thursday, the Postal Service said centers in the Twin Cities would take over mail sorting duties for Bemidji, Duluth, Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud.

Nowacki said the six workers in the Bemidji sorting center would likely be reassigned. Postal employees with six or more years of service are protected in the union contract from layoffs.

"The goal is to reassign everybody," said Nowacki, adding that despite 140,000 jobs being eliminated by the Postal Service nationwide in the past four years, no one has been laid off.

No specific date has been set for the closures, but a postal service news release said it would not happen before May 15 so Congress could enact comprehensive legislation to revise its service standards.

About 60 jobs will be lost with the closure of the Duluth mail sorting facility and about 200 statewide.

The Postal Service said it experienced a 25 percent decline in first-class mail volume since 2006 and services are dependent on the sale of postage, postal products, and services.

Nationwide, the Postal Service is planning cuts to more than 260 mail processing centers, part of a billion-dollar cost-cutting effort. The move is expected to result in the loss of roughly 35,000 jobs, which postal officials said they hope to achieve mainly through attrition.

"The steps we are taking now will put the Postal Service on a strong financial footing for decades to come," the agency said in a statement.

The consolidations typically would lengthen the distance mail travels from post office to processing center, prompting the agency to lower delivery standards for first-class mail that, for the first time in 40 years, will eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day.

Last week, the Postal Service warned it will lose as much as $18.2 billion a year by 2015 unless Congress grants it new leeway to eliminate Saturday delivery and raise the price of a postage stamp by as much as 5 cents.

In December, the Postal Service said mail processing operations would move from Bemidji to St. Cloud beginning next July. However, it also said letters mailed to local address would be delivered the next day and service to ZIP codes 562-563 and 553-555 would improve from two-day service to overnight.

Nowacki said Thursday that is no longer the plan as Bemidji mail will be sorted in Minneapolis.

Full retail services will still be available at the Bemidji Post Office, which will keep its regular hours, he said.

Bemidji Postmaster John Johnson did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

(701) 780-1104