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Postal changes may affect High Country

Article Published: Oct. 19, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

With local governments expressing concern over possible consolidation by the U.S. Postal Service, the postal service is continuing an operational review that could change some of its regional distribution centers.

Last week, the Watauga County commissioners joined other local governments in adopting a resolution opposing any changes to the Hickory Processing & Distribution Center, which was one of several thousand being considered for consolidation.

The Hickory center handles mail in the "286" prefix region and workers there feared job losses in an area already facing unemployment rates of around 15 percent.

The Hickory center doesn't appear on the latest review list, according to an Oct. 9 announcement by the U.S. Postal Service Web site.

However, Hickory and the High Country could still be affected by possible changes in Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem, Asheville and Charlotte, where centers are still under review.

The postal service undertook the review in light of its $2.4 billion operating loss for the third quarter, stating "Reducing over-capacity in retail and delivery operations is a good business move. Every effort will be made to maintain and improve customer access to postal services."

Carl Walton, a USPS spokesperson for the Greensboro district that includes Hickory, said there is no timeline announced for consolidations, if any.

He said the changes would not affect customer service or delivery times.

"We would only move forward if we can continue to serve customers in the same way," Walton said. "That's pretty much our bread and butter. You can be certain that if any changes are made, it will be transparent to the customer."

Walton said any changes would only affect outgoing mail and the way it is collected and distributed after carriers bring it back to their post offices each afternoon.

He also said career employees would be offered jobs within their driving distance if any changes affected distribution centers.

"Part of the review of consolidation is where we can place employees," Walton said. "In most cases, it won't be too far away. Our career employees should be fine."

Postal workers at the Hickory center distributed resolutions that said consolidation would lead to job losses and delay local mail delivery. The Greensboro center is about 80 miles from Hickory.

The "286" mail prefix includes Watauga, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Alexander, Iredell, Ashe, Wilkes and Alleghany counties.

Nationwide, the USPS announced plans to cut 57,000 positions, eliminate nearly 12,000 carrier routes, reduce staff in national and regional offices by 15 percent and sell "underutilized" postal facilities.

The town of Boone bought the downtown Boone post office after the USPS put it up for sale two years ago. The town leased space to the USPS to keep the office open.

The USPS receives no taxpayer funding and makes its operational money on products, services and postage.

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