by Dennis Dalman
Plans to close the Waite Park-based mail-distribution center cannot proceed until the U.S. Postal Service decides to change its service standards covering first-class mail.
Currently, the service standard for a first-class letter to and from a city in Minnesota – say, Sartell to St. Joseph – is expected to be next-day delivery. A letter from Sartell to – say, Dallas – is expected to take three days.
Moving the work from the distribution center from Waite Park to Minneapolis, as the plan calls for, would add one day to the service standards. Locally speaking, it would then take two days for a letter to get from, say, Sartell to St. Joseph or to some other Minnesota city.
There are 264 mail-distribution centers in the nation scheduled to be consolidated. That is about half of all the distribution centers in the country.
Pete Nowacki, USPS spokesman, based in the Twin Cities, discussed the latest postal-service plans in an interview March 5 with the Newsleader.
“There is still no final word,” he said. “First, a change has to be made on the service standards. To close the (Waite Park) plant, that standard first has to be changed. At this point, I just have no idea when that will happen.”
In recent months, the USPS has undertaken many studies and carried out plans to streamline postal service in order to avoid red ink. One change was to transfer the eight Sartell Post Office mail carriers to the St. Cloud Post Office where they pick up and sort the mail before returning to Sartell to deliver it. Those employees no long work within the small confines of the Sartell Post Office.
The Waite Park mail-distribution center employs 140 people, Nowacki said. The USPS would work hard to see if those employees could be transferred to other jobs if the Waite Park facility should be closed, he added. A closing, he said, would have no effect on the employees of area post offices and their current employees.
The Waite Park distribution center is just one such facility the USPS is planning to consolidate.
The ones in Bemidji and Mankato would close, too, along with the Waite Park one. All of the mail they handle could be handled at a distribution center in Minneapolis. In addition, the plan calls for the closure of the distribution plants in Rochester and Duluth, and all of that mail would be handled by a distribution center in St. Paul. All of the mail would be hauled, as now, via semi trucks. The distribution centers currently in Minneapolis and St. Paul have modernized equipment, Nowacki noted.
“The only real change customers would notice, if the plan goes through, is they would get first-class letters a day later than they do now,” Nowacki said. “Other than that, customers won’t notice any change at all.”
Here’s how the Waite Park distribution center – indeed, other distribution centers, as well – work. The Waite Park one receives all mail destined for zip codes that begin with either 563 or 564. The mail items receive cancellation marks, then they are put through scanning machines that can “read” zip codes for a general area first. Then they are put through a scanning machine again for 563 or 564 zip codes. Again they are put through scanners, this time to sort out per carrier routes. Then, once again, the machine scans the mail for delivery sequence along routes.
When mail carriers get their large trays of mail, the pieces are in order of delivery.
Scanning machines, Nowacki said, can “read” zip codes and addresses on 95 percent of all mail received, even most sloppily hand-written addresses. The mail that cannot be “deciphered” by the machines is then photographed in another machine. The photos are transmitted electronically to a station where experts view the photos on a screen. If they can decipher an address, they key it in and transmit it back to the distribution center where a delivery bar code gets placed on the piece of mail.