It is hardly a surprise that the U.S. Postal Service is considering closing the General Mail Facility on Shallowford Road. The Postal Service's problems -- drastically falling volume, high costs and federal mandates that preclude change in many instances -- are well known. So are plans to reduce costs by closing facilities. Indeed, officials announced earlier in the fall that the Chattanooga site could be closed. Still, the presence of Postal Service officials here for a Wednesday meeting to discuss the possible closure is a palpable shock.
The Shallowford Road facility serves as an area processing and distribution center. It is one of more than 250 such sites being considered for closure. If the center here is closed, it could mean unemployment for more than 100 workers and noticeable changes in mail delivery times. Neither is a good option, but officials here to discuss the closure with the public made it clear that some, perhaps many, facilities around the nation will be closed. There's no other choice.
David Walton, a Postal Service spokesman, said closures are unfortunate but necessary if the agency is to avoid financial collapse. He's right. Mail volume is no longer heavy enough to support the number of facilities currently in operation.
The only question, it seems, is whether area residents and postal workers can make a strong enough case to convince the service to keep the Chattanooga facility open. There was no way to determine that following Wednesday's meeting. A decision is expected as early as March.
What is certain, though, is that if the facility closes, mail delivery as most people here know it will change. For years, mail generated in Chattanooga was processed on Shallowford Road, almost guaranteeing next day delivery to local addresses. If the local facility is closed and moved to Duluth, Ga., that almost certainly will not be the case.
Currently, a first-class letter dropped in a box in, say, Hixson and addressed to a bank or utility company in downtown Chattanooga is processed here and delivered the next day. If the facility here is closed, the same letter would travel to Duluth for processing, then be returned to Chattanooga for delivery, probably two days after mailing.
Longer delivery times and related issues were discussed at the meeting, attended mostly by postal employees. Some residents worried about delays in delivery of vital medicines and checks. Representatives of large mailers here expressed concern about delays that could effect their business and whether or not the Postal Service had thoroughly reviewed the possibility of volume growth here because of new businesses such as Amazon. Postal officials were noncommittal.
Given its current deficit and projected decreases in volume, the Postal Service has little choice other than to close facilities, including, perhaps, the General Mail Facility in Chattanooga. Hopefully, coming reductions in service will be handled in a manner that properly balances public need with common sense.