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Potential consolidation of mail centers

GRAND FORKS -- Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Minot and Bemidji, Minn., could lose their U.S. Postal Service mail processing operations by next spring.

The Postal Service mail processing is about to launch a feasibility study about the potential consolidation of customer service mail processing centers in the region.

Here are the proposed changes:

- Grand Forks to Fargo.

- Devils Lake to Fargo.

- Minot to Bismarck.

- Bemidji, Minn., to Minneapolis.

- St. Cloud, Minn., to Minneapolis.

- Duluth, Minn., to St. Paul, Minn.

- Rochester, Minn., to St. Paul.

- Eau Claire, Wis., to St. Paul.

- LaCrosse, Wis., to St. Paul.

"It could be moving all the mail processing, none of it, or it could be certain parts of it," said Pete Nowacki, Postal Service media relations representative in the Twin Cities.

Currently, Grand Forks has 35 to 40 employees in its mail processing center. Devils Lake has 15.

The study, which is expected to be completed in early 2012, comes as the Postal Service faces one of the most difficult challenges in its history, according to a news release.

If the Postal Service decides to consider consolidation of some or all of the targeted cities, it would conduct community meetings to explain the proposed operational changes and potential impacts on service, and to solicit public feedback, which then would be considered before final decisions are made.

Annual mail volume has declined by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years and is continuing to decline. Total First-Class Mail has dropped 25 percent and single piece First-Class Mail -- letters bearing postage stamps -- has declined 36 percent in the same timeframe.

Even when the economy fully recovers, the Postal Service said it does not expect mail volume to return to previous peak levels, and is projecting annual deficits for the foreseeable future. The decline has created substantial excess mail processing capacity.

In the meantime, the Postal Service is continuing to conduct public meetings in small communities throughout the region on the proposed closing of small-town post offices, according to Nowacki. No final decisions have been made on those potential closings.

Bonham is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.