City, state, federal officials will fight plan to send Lexington mail to Louisville, Knoxville

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJuly 23, 2014 

Bill Barkley, a 20-year employee of the U.S. Postal Service, sorted mail at the Nandino Boulevard center in July.

MATT GOINS Buy Photo

Elected officials said Wednesday that they will endeavor to keep regional mail-sorting operations at Lexington's Nandino Boulevard location.

Mayor Jim Gray, who was in Washington on Wednesday, said in a statement that he "will again ask our congressional delegation to do everything they can to keep this facility in Lexington."

"We've opposed this closure from the beginning and done everything we can to keep our post office open," Gray said.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said he has contacted U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe to set up a meeting "to discuss the challenges faced by the postal service and the effect that post office closings and consolidations in Kentucky could have on our local communities."

Likewise, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, said he hopes to meet with Donahoe again soon "to reaffirm that his assurances from our last meeting still stand."

Those assurances, according to a news release that Barr's office put out in April 2013, were that closing the center "will not in any way negatively impact quality of service or mail delivery times, and that the Nandino location will remain open as a post office."

Under another round of "consolidations," mail-sorting operations now performed in Lexington are scheduled to be moved to Louisville and Knoxville next year. Lexington handled 649.5 million pieces of mail in the last year; Louisville handled 1.15 billion.

The Nandino Boulevard processing and distribution center is among 82 centers nationwide that would be closed. If that happens, Louisville would be the only processing and distribution center in Kentucky. Centers in Cincinnati; Nashville; Knoxville; Evansville, Ind.; and Charleston, W.Va., process mail from elsewhere in Kentucky.

About 290 Lexington employees would be affected by closing the Nandino processing and distribution center. The coming consolidations will begin in early January and should be finished by fall 2015.

Previous consolidations have been "seamless," and customers haven't noticed a change, said David Walton, a spokesman in Louisville for the Kentuckiana District of the U.S. Postal Service.

"You're dropping your mail in the mailbox and it's just going somewhere else to be sorted," he said in an interview.

Walton said customers would be able to buy stamps, mail packages, get a passport and do other business at the Nandino location.

"The only thing moving is mail-sorting operations," he wrote in an email.

Local representatives of the American Postal Workers Union and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, two of the four unions who represent workers at the Nandino location, were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The latter union had said in a statement that the reinstituted plan for closings "continues a pattern of foolhardy actions by the USPS in a misguided 'cut to survive' strategy that will ultimately lead to the demise of the Postal Service. It also represents the service's latest attempt to threaten members of Congress with adverse consequences in their home districts if the Postmaster General does not get the legislation he is supporting."

Closing the Lexington processing and distribution center would save $8.7 million, including transportation and maintenance costs, the first year, Walton said.

That center opened on June 1, 1973, when the cost of a stamp was 8 cents. The building is owned by the postal service, but Walton said he didn't know what would happen to it after consolidation.

"Out of the 82 facilities that we're consolidating, we own all but four of them," Walton said. "We don't know at this time what would become of those facilities."

Bob Quick, executive director of Commerce Lexington, said it's difficult to assess the impact of the proposed consolidation. He said he didn't think Lexington would necessarily be less attractive to potential employers looking at the city as a place to bring jobs. After all, he said, the consolidations and closings are happening nationwide.

"So I think many people have witnessed the same discussions going on," Quick said. "I don't think it's something where one community is going to get a black eye versus another."

Quick also said the U.S. Postal Service would "aggressively" work with displaced employees "to help them find jobs."

Walton said the consolidation will have "very little impact" on mail sent by businesses, which tend to use standard mail or bulk mail. "For first-class mail, the overall time it takes to reach its destination will increase slightly from an overall average of 2.14 days to an overall average of 2.25 days," Walton said.

Kentucky processing centers that have already been shut down or are scheduled to close include Ashland, Bowling Green, Campton, Elizabethtown, Hazard, London, Owensboro, Pikeville and Somerset.

The postal service has said that 141 completed consolidations saved about $865 million a year.

The processing and distribution center in Paducah is among those scheduled to close next year. Paducah's processing would be done in Evansville, Ind.

Consolidating the processing at the next 82 centers is expected to save about $750 million a year, or $3.7 billion over the next five years, the postal service said.

The postal service, which receives no taxpayer funding for operating costs, has recorded $26 billion in losses over the past three years and says it is facing pressure from declining volumes of first-class mail, rising operating costs, wage and benefit inflation, and other challenges.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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