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Postal Service plan to close Huron facility criticized

This crowd gathered Tuesday night at the Huron Event Center to hear details of the Postal Service's proposal to close its Dakota Central Processing and Distribution Facility in Huron. The public meeting began with Postal Service officials showing a video outlining why the Postal Service is considering closing mail processing facilities across the country and reducing first-class mail standards. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

HURON -- Postal Service officials heard negative public reaction after they gave details of the proposal to close the Dakota Central Processing and Distribution Facility in Huron at a public meeting Tuesday night in Huron.

Rickie Kunzweiler, the Postal Service's lead plant manager for the Dakotas District, presented the plan to move the Huron facility's services to another facility in Sioux Falls. More than 100 people attended the meeting.

The move would save the financially ailing Postal Service $2.2 million annually.

"These business decisions aren't made lightly," she said. "Nearly every employee at our mail processing centers could be affected by these changes."

To move Dakota Central's mail processing services to Sioux Falls, the Postal Service would have to lower its standard for first-class mail from overnight to two- to three-day delivery.

"Our entire mail network was designed based on delivering mail overnight," Kunzweiler said.

If the standards for first-class mail were lowered, she told the crowd, it would allow mail to be processed for a longer time during the day and increase the Postal Service's geographical reach while cutting operational expenses.

"Our footprint has to change. Our business model doesn't work anymore," she said.

Debra Kates, president of the Dakota Central chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, was the first speaker once the meeting was opened up for public comments.

"The only way this consolidation will work is to ruin the standards of the Postal Service," Yates said.

Two local state representatives attended the meeting and voiced their support of keeping Huron's mail processing facility open.

State Rep. Jim White, R-Huron, is also in opposition to the Postal Service's plan to reduce standards for first-class mail.

"With the program you're proposing, you're asking us to live down to these new expectations," he said.

State Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said her father is a retired Postal Service employee, and she also opposes lowering first-class mail standards.

"The U.S Postal Service put food on my table growing up," she said. "I would certainly hate to see that service go down, because I think you're shooting yourself in the foot by doing that."

The Huron facility is just one of 252 mail-processing centers in the nation being reviewed for potential closure. The Postal Service hopes to save more than $3 billion annually by closing many of its mail-processing facilities and rural post offices. The Sioux Falls mail processing facility is the only one of six such facilities in South Dakota not being studied for possible closure by the Postal Service.

After describing the Postal Service's plan as "radical changes" to its mail processing network, Kunzweiler made it clear the changes would not be easy for anyone involved.

"I don't like standing up here and telling you a mail processing center might close as much as you don't like to hear it," she said to the crowd. "If we do nothing, we'll be worse off than we are today."

After running a $5.1 billion deficit for the 2011 fiscal year, the Postal Service now faces default on a $5.5 billion payment to fund health care for its retirees. Hoping to find $20 billion in savings by 2015, the Postal Service began taking steps to consolidate or close facilities like the one in Huron to cut its operating costs nationwide.

In July, the Postal Service decided mail processing centers in Pierre and Aberdeen would be moved to Huron, but those services would now be moved to Sioux Falls if the Huron facility is closed.

The Postal Service recently agreed to delay closing any of its facilities until May 15 at the request of Congress. Postal Service officials will continue to review their facilities and hold public information meetings until that time.