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Bemidji mail center safe from cuts for now

BEMIDJI - The plan to consolidate some of the United States Postal Service's processing centers is moving forward, but Bemidji's sorting facility won't be among the first to close.

Mail processing centers in three Minnesota cities - Mankato, Rochester and Waite Park - are among 140 consolidations planned by February 2013.

Bemidji and Duluth, both targeted to lose mail sorting centers, were left off a list of first-round closures.

A second round of consolidations, effecting 89 centers is scheduled to begin in February 2014. It's unclear what locations will be affected during the second phase.

Last year, the Postal Service said it planned to cut more than 260 mail processing centers nationwide, including five in Minnesota, to save billions of dollars.

Potentially, that meant the loss of overnight delivery of local mail. The Postal Service said Thursday it would keep overnight local mail service at least through 2013.

The Postal Service said during a Thursday news conference that its plans to move forward with a modified plan to consolidate mail processing facilities at 140 locations.

"Unless the circumstances of the Postal Service change in the interim, a second and final phase of 89 consolidations is currently scheduled to begin" in 2014, the Postal Service said in a news release.

"We revised our network consolidation timeline to provide a longer planning schedule for our customers, employees and other stakeholders, and to enable a more methodical and measured implementation," said Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer of the Postal Service.

"We simply do not have the mail volumes to justify the size and capacity of our current mail processing network. To return to long-term profitability and financial stability while keeping mail affordable, we must match our network to the anticipated workload."

Donahoe said the current plan "meets our cost reduction goals, ensures seamless and excellent service performance throughout the implementation period."

Consolidation is set to begin this summer, but it will be suspended for the election and holiday mailing seasons.

In addition, the Postal Service said Thursday it would soon modify its existing service area for overnight delivery, shrinking the geographic reach of overnight service to local areas and enable consolidation activity in 2013. Service areas could be further reduced in 2014.

For the second phase of consolidations, which means mail sorting services would be transferred to larger facilities like those in the Twin Cities, decisions will be made based on long-term service standards that would significantly revise mail-entry times for customers seeking overnight delivery.

The Postal Service projects it will lose $14 billion this fiscal year, and future years would be similar under its current structure.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., issued a statement after the Postal Service announced its plans.

Franken said he has spent several months working on the Senate's postal reform bill to prevent the closure of the processing center.

"I've been fighting to save Bemidji's processing center since I heard it was on the chopping block last winter," Franken said. "I'm relieved to announce that it will remain open for the foreseeable future and that the people employed there won't lose their jobs.

"I'm thankful that the Postmaster General decided to listen to the concerns of folks in northern Minnesota and keep this center open. It's still vitally important that we pass meaningful postal reform legislation to preserve postal facility jobs, restore financial stability, and make sure reliable postal service remains available to all Minnesotans."