By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Five Big Island post offices could see a reduction in their operating hours under new cost-saving measures proposed by the United States Postal Service.
A total of 12 facilities statewide would be among the 13,000 rural post offices around the country with reduced hours.
Bending to strong public opposition, the nearly bankrupt Postal Service proposed the idea Wednesday after backing off another plan to close thousands of rural post offices after May 15.
The agency is suggesting cutting opening hours at the post offices between two and six hours a day. An additional 4,000 rural facilities around the country would keep their full-time hours.
Among the Big Isle post offices on the list are those in Hakalau, Laupahoehoe, Honomu, Hawaii National Park and Papaaloa.
The Tribune-Herald spoke with several residents along the Hamakua Coast on Wednesday who said that any reductions in service would create hardships for them, especially considering that the areas they live in don’t provide mail delivery to their homes.
“We don’t have a mailbox at our house, and I order a lot of things from the mainland,” said Umauma resident Serena Charmian. “I tend to get frequent parcels, and if they cut the hours it would make it that much harder to get things.”
Charmian was at the Hakalau post office on Wednesday afternoon to drop off a bag full of donations for the Postal Service’s national Stamp Out Hunger food drive, and added that the facility offers more than simple mail service.
“It’s a community hub,” she said. “(Post office employee) Janet is great. She always knows what’s going on in the community. People come here to see what’s going on.”
The former movie theater building along the Onomea Scenic Drive looks a little worse for wear, but it has personality to spare. Residents stopping by to check their mail on Wednesday often lingered to chat, and a bulletin board posted by the landlord on the building’s side provides a snapshot of everything fit to know about the little community.
One card on the board was from a family announcing the birth of a baby boy. Another was a thank-you letter to the community. One person was seeking jiu-jitsu partners. And more than a few postings contained photographs and information about missing or found pets.
“I know a lot of people who depend on the post office here,” said Papaikou resident Tina Mattos when she arrived at the Honomu facility to check her mail.
“This little town survives around the post office. I’ve gotten my mail here for 23 years. (The proposed cuts) would be difficult, not only for me, but everybody else. Especially around the holidays.”
The Postal Service’s proposal came after it halted plans to shutter 3,700 low-revenue post offices. The plan aroused months of dissent from rural states and their lawmakers, who said the cost-cutting would hurt their communities the most. In recent weeks, rising opposition had led Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to visit some rural areas in a bid to ease fears about cuts that could slow delivery of prescription drugs, newspapers and other services.
The Postal Service intends to seek regulatory approval and get community input, a process that could take several months. The new strategy would then be implemented over two years and completed in September 2014, saving an estimated half billion dollars annually.
“We’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear — they want to keep their post office open,” Donahoe said. “We believe today’s announcement will serve our customers’ needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability.”
Under the new plan, communities would be given the option of keeping their area post offices open but at reduced hours. Another option would be to close a postal office in one area while keeping a nearby one open full-time.
Communities also could opt for alternatives including creating a Village Post Office in which postal services are offered in libraries, government offices or local stores such as a Wal-Mart, Walgreens or Office Depot.
“At the end of the day, we will not close rural post offices until we receive community input,” said Megan Brennan, the Postal Service’s chief operating officer. “We believe very few post offices will be closed over the next few years.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.