PIKEVILLE — By January it will take two days instead of one to send a letter from far Eastern Kentucky to Lexington, Frankfort and other parts of the state.
The U.S. Postal Service will be closing sorting centers in Pikeville and Ashland, routing mail instead through Charleston, W.Va.
Work from two other sorting centers was transferred earlier this year, and more than 20 small Kentucky post offices are being closed as the postal service tries to save operating expenses.
In Pikeville and Ashland, 13 jobs will be affected — two in Ashland and 11 in Pike ville — though no layoffs will be necessary, postal service spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky said. Closing the processing centers is expected to save a total of $3.1 million annually. All ZIP codes that start with 411, 412, 415 or 416 would be routed through Charleston and take two days to get to points west such as Frankfort or Lexington.
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The postal service made a similar move in Bowling Green earlier this year, routing mail through Nashville and Evansville, Ind., and in London, sending mail through Lexington.
The announcement about a study of the feasibility of closing the sorting centers sparked outcry among local elected officials and protests mainly among postal service employees. But the fact that so few customers were deeply affected speaks to the reason for the change.
"I can't say we're happy about it," said Kevin Auton, Pike County's chief deputy property valuation administrator. "I think about 3,000 people signed a petition" to keep the center from closing, "but as far as the operation of our office, it won't affect it very much."
His office mails property tax notices, but payers have 30 days to mail back a check, so a one-day delay shouldn't cause many problems, he said. Most of the PVA office's business with Frankfort is done with e-mail and online filings, Auton said.
As populations in many rural regions shrink, Internet access grows and transportation costs increase, the U.S. Postal Service is closing offices in many small communities and changing how it does business in urban regions.
Post office distribution is denser in southeastern Kentucky, where mountainous roads and limited transportation have made getting around difficult and local post offices become community centers. But nearly all the post offices closed during the past year in the Kentuckiana District have been in southeastern and rural Western Kentucky. And nearly all the new "contract unit" offices — full-service post offices inside other businesses, mainly retail stores — are opening in more urban areas such as Lexington, Louisville and Elizabethtown.
In some cases, such as Isonville in Elliott County, post office boxes have been moved to a general store, but no other postal services are available there.
Yarosky, the postal service spokeswoman, noted that near many closed offices, stamps can be purchased at other businesses, such as banks and grocery stores, and that much postal business is moving online.
The biggest effect closing a post office has on a community is loss of identity.
Ray Rogers of Powell County remembers when you could address a letter to tiny Bowen and Rosslyn, until their post offices closed. Now letters there are addressed to Stanton, and the community names are all but lost to memory, Rogers said. Waltersville and West Bend were absorbed into Clay City decades ago, and the newest Clay City post office stands in what used to be the Waltersville post office. It's a point of pride for old-timers in those communities.
"I go every day except Sunday" to pick up mail, said Rogers, a Stanton resident who has run Rogers Insurance in Clay City for nearly 60 years.
Rogers said he has been inconvenienced by having to change some customers' bills from a Clay City route to a Stanton route. Although there never were plans to close Clay City's office, the postal service said, rumors flew and a local petition circulated to keep it open. Rogers compared the friendly rivalry between Stanton and Clay City to that of Louisville and Lexington.
"It's like if you told everybody from Lexington that their address is now going to be Louisville," he said.