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2/13/2014
Mail service changes

Mail delays as a result of a broken machine are expected to be over in Ketchikan.

The machine isn't repaired. But the postmaster general will allow local mail sorting, according to Sen. Mark Begich. Begich has been instrumental in addressing that specific concern for Ketchikan, although Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young have had Alaska's postal service challenges on their radar in recent months and years, too.

A sorting machine broke down at the main Ketchikan Post Office last year. Since then, Ketchikan's incoming and outgoing first-class, letter-sized mail has been routed through Juneau to be sorted. This has caused delivery delays, which were exacerbated by fog and other weather that interfered with flights between the two cities, particularly this winter.

Begich met with the postmaster general to seek the return of mail sorting to Ketchikan. The sorting will be done by hand instead of machine, he says, which might take longer than with the machine. That could prompt changes in procedures at the post office.

The U.S. Postal Service also had planned to increase rates on parcel post packages for Alaska communities off a road system. Begich addressed this, too, saying that those increases will be rolled back.

Begich as well as Murkowski and Young have addressed the uncertainty of closing post offices and post office staffing. The Postal Reform Act before the Senate would impose a one-year moratorium on rural post office, station or branch closures in such places as Douglas and Auke Bay. It also would call for public input on postal service changes in light of possible closures.

The act still has to be passed by the Senate and the House, but the language pertaining to Alaska's postal service issues was included as of this week.

The federal government and its postal service has their challenges. Officials need to quit spending more than the revenue generated. The postal service, which had its accounts raided for other federal services in years past, currently has to deal with a deficit, and the postmaster is trying to stop the flow of red ink. Although that financial situation wasn't given as the excuse for not replacing Ketchikan's sorting machine. Officials say a new machine wouldn't fit into the local facility.

While all of that is a concern to all Alaskans, alleviating the delivery delay in Ketchikan was imperative. For example, bills must be paid on time. To be paid promptly, they must be received in a timely fashion. Not all — maybe not even most — postal customers feel comfortable with electronic payments. They prefer checks and money orders.

Thanks to Begich and the postmaster general, those payments and other mail shouldn't be delayed as a routine.