May 01, 2009

Backcountry Air Mail Cuts "Dangerous''

Crapo, Risch write Postmaster after discouraging staff-level discussions over cutting Idaho service

Washington, DC - Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch want the U.S. Postal Service to reconsider ending backcountry air mail service to dozens of Idahoans living in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. In a letter to Postmaster General John Potter, the Senators noted that an alternative of USPS-provided post office boxes in Cascade for the disaffected customers is "not practical."

"Asking residents to use a post office box in Cascade would require them to travel over 120 air miles or drive multiple back road mountain passes to access mail," the Senators wrote. "It is not only dangerous, but prohibitive in the winter months."

The Senators noted that this decision contradicts Potter's own testimony just three months ago before a Senate subcommittee of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: "We must serve every customer and every community equally," Potter testified. "Rich or poor, from the biggest cities to the smallest towns, we must provide the same high level of service. We must provide the same access. We must make our services available at the same prices-in both easy-to-service locations and locations so remote they can only be reached by mule, by swamp boat, or by bush plane."

Despite that testimony, the Postal Service notified pilot Ray Arnold that it was ending his $46,000 contract to provide service to 20 sites in the Idaho backcountry on June 30, 2009. "We strongly urge you to continue the current contract," the Senators concluded.

The letter also points out that backcountry residents who now vote by mail could be disenfranchised from participating in the electoral process. Arnold, who has flown the route for 34 years, also often brings medical supplies and food to the backcountry residents.

Crapo and Risch acknowledged that discussions with Postal Service staff to date have been discouraging but looked forward to continuing a dialog to benefit residents in the backcountry.

April 23, 2009

John E. Potter
Postmaster General and CEO
475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Room 10804
Washington, DC 20260-3500

Dear Postmaster Potter,

As an urgent matter to the residents of central Idaho we are asking the United States Postal Service to continue air mail service from Cascade, Idaho to central Idaho.

The current contract is set to expire on June 30, 2009. The $46,000 contract provides service to over 20 sites each week in the rugged wilderness of central Idaho. Many small businesses and residents rely on this service as their lifeline to commerce and family. The decision to cancel this contract is detrimental to all involved.

The current alternative proposed by the USPS is not practical. Asking residents to use a post office box in Cascade would require them to travel over 120 air miles or drive multiple back road mountain passes to access mail. It is not only dangerous, but prohibitive in the winter months. On Election Day, it is only by absentee ballot can these citizens participate in our democratic process. Without airmail, these individuals are left without a voice.

While we appreciated the opportunity to speak directly to your staff on April 28, 2009, to discuss the financial situation of USPS and the future of air mail service in central Idaho, we found the lack of cooperation on this matter to be disturbing. According to your representative, the USPS would be willing to consider our proposals for cost-cutting measures for the current air mail delivery contract, but would be unwilling to join us in the search for additional USPS cost-cutting measures with the potential to offset the cost of the contract. Upon experiencing this lack of cooperation from your agency, our sense of urgency over the future of the contract has greatly increased. Postal delivery is an important issue that affects the very lifeline of these isolated mail recipients.

May we remind you of your testimony to US Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, January 28, 2009:

"We must serve every customer and every community equally. Rich or poor, from the biggest cities to the smallest towns, we must provide the same high level of service. We must provide the same access. We must make our services available at the same price - in both easy-to-serve locations and locations so remote they can only be reached by mule, by swamp boat, or by bush plane." (emphasis added)

Your testimony speaks volumes to this matter and why the rural airmail service should continue. It is the right thing to do and provides an invaluable link for the residents of central Idaho to the rest of the world. We strongly urge you to continue the current contract.