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Postal Service out to 'restore faith' of Oil Patch

Customers wait in line at the Williston post office on Wednesday. The U.S. Postal Service is working to reduce the wait time for Oil Patch post offices.

WILLISTON -- The U.S. Postal Service has carriers working into the night -- delivering mail at 8 p.m. or later -- as it has struggled to keep up with North Dakota's oil boom, but an official visiting the area this week says that's going to change.

Roy Reynolds, U.S. Postal Service district manager for the Dakotas, is holding public input meetings this week in northwest North Dakota to hear concerns and get suggestions.

"We understand we have let a lot of the communities down from what the norm is, but we're going to be back in these communities doing what we need to do to restore faith in the service we're trying to provide," Reynolds said.

During a meeting on Tuesday in Watford City that drew about 70 people, residents complained about slow delivery and said it's not unusual to wait an hour or longer at the post office, Reynolds said.

"It's totally unacceptable," said Reynolds, who is based in Sioux Falls, S.D. "I can't expect people to have to take vacation from work to go mail a package."

As one step to reducing that wait time, which Reynolds said should be five minutes or less, the postal service is installing parcel lockers. Customers will find a key in their post office boxes that allows them to retrieve their package from a locker rather than wait in line.

Williston, which used to have a waiting list to get a post office box, recently added 1,300 post office boxes and 35 parcel lockers.

The Postal Service also is working to hire more staff and in some cases begin offering more career positions or wages that are more competitive for the area, Reynolds said. A job fair is planned for next week in Watford City.

"We're competing with every other business to try to get the employees," Reynolds said.

Staffing issues coupled with new houses and apartment buildings opening every day puts a strain on workers. Ideally, mail carriers should be done with their routes by 5 p.m., but in Williston, they often deliver mail late into the evening, Reynolds said.

Mario Pinocci, a former Great Falls, Mont., postal supervisor who has been leading Williston's post office for about 2 1/2 months, said a team effort to improve service has recently prompted a reduction in complaints.

"The office has changed 180 degrees," Pinocci said.

The Postal Service also is looking to partner with retail stores, libraries or other facilities to open village post offices that would allow customers to mail packages, buy stamps and access some other services, Reynolds said.

During the lunch hour Wednesday, the line at the Williston post office stretched into the lobby with people picking up packages or signing up for post office boxes.

Ann Nelson, who was among the customers, said her mail is delivered between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., but some of her neighbors don't get mail until 10 p.m.

"I think they're overworked," Nelson said of the carriers. "Our mail lady is wonderful, but she has a hard time keeping up with what they have to do."

Linda Clemes, who picks up the mail daily for Basin Concrete, said she typically waits 10 to 30 minutes if she needs to pick up a package, but she praised how fast the clerks work. At home, her mail is sometimes delivered as late as 8 p.m.

"I wish they could get some help," Clemes said. "It worries me for their safety."

Another public input meeting is scheduled for today in Tioga. People can also submit comments by talking to their local postmaster or going to