EASTON Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both D-Md., demanded Thursday a halt to a new study on moving Easton's mail processing facility to Wilmington, Del.
U.S. Postal Service officials twice delayed a decision on moving the facility's operations to Baltimore, then Thursday announced the new study. Employees at the facility heard the news at a meeting there Wednesday night.
The new study, like the first, involves a review of operations in Easton and could take up to five months to complete.
"Due to Easton's proximity to Wilmington, the postal service recognized the need to perform due diligence and examine a possible consolidation scenario of Easton into Wilmington," Freda Sauter, USPS spokesman said. "The postal service is analyzing the data and public comments to determine the best course of action moving forward."
The senators, however, oppose consolidation, which they said could burden the lives and livelihood of of 500,000 residents on the Shore.
"We are strongly opposed to any consideration of transferring mail processing and distribution from the Easton area mail processing center to Delaware," the senators wrote to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. "There is absolutely no statistical or empirical data to justify consideration of this idea. The Easton area mail processing center is the only mail processing center on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and its ongoing operation is critically important to the residents, small businesses and a significant rural and elderly population that relies on the mail service."
The senators also expressed frustration for what they described as total disregard for a transparent and public process. They also said this is a last-minute decision based on undue political influence.
The senators asked for a response by March 1.
State Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, called the possible closure devastating.
"Any possible relocation of Easton's mail processing operation, whether to Baltimore or 85 miles away to Wilmington, Del., would be another devastating economic blow to Maryland's Eastern Shore," Colburn said. "The U.S. congress needs to be responsible, and take the appropriate action, and eliminate Saturday operations."
Thursday's announcement comes in the middle of a five-month moratorium on closures that expires in May. During the closure, Congress is supposed to work on a solution to the postal service's financial woes that doesn't harm rural America.
Mikulski and Cardin recently joined 25 other senators in asking the committee that oversees the postal service to strengthen a bill the service proposed. That bill would modernize the service, and allow it to make about $10 billion in cost-cutting moves that require Congressional approval.
Sauter does not yet have cost-saving estimates on this latest proposal, she said. As for the potential effect on employees at the facility, Sauter said the postal service would follow the requirements of collective bargaining agreements and the law.
She also said no public meetings are scheduled at this time. When the postal service previously studied moving operations, the agency held one public hearing a decision the senators sharply criticized.
"We're going to work with the postal service to ensure that the community has the opportunity to engage in a thorough public hearing process on this or any other proposal regarding the Easton facility," U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, said Thursday.
Sauter said Easton's facility generates no revenue and mail volume declined by 7.4 percent from last year.
A recent Sage Policy Group study showed closing the Easton facility would shrink the Shore's economy by $19 million. It also would result in the loss of 126 jobs and an $8.6 million loss in labor income.