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Kalaupapa Post Office Concerns Persist

No decisions made, officials say.

As financial crisis has put 4,000 post offices on the chopping block nationwide, United States Postal Service (USPS) officials said visiting Kalaupapa residents Sept. 20 bettered their understanding of residents’ needs. Isolated by the world’s tallest sea cliffs, it’s virtually impossible to visit topside post offices for daily mail and banking – and more than 50 community members exited the meeting on a fairly optimistic note.

But by the settlement’s monthly community meeting Oct. 11, that positivity had dissipated. Department of Health (DOH) Administrator Mark Miller announced Kalaupapa Post Office (PO) will slightly reduce its operating hours starting Oct. 23, from 20 hours a week to 15.

He also called attention to a USPS letter sent to Kalaupapa PO boxes earlier this month, suggesting residents can make up for lost hours by “utiliz[ing] within a 5-mile radius Kualapu`u Post Office for full service …”

Although residents received the letter in recent weeks, it was dated Aug. 18 – a month before USPS representatives’ Sept. 20 visit. Miller said it gave the impression that “[USPS] came down here and wasted our time telling us they’re open to the process, when the process is already in place.”

“That indicates to me that they weren’t actually listening at all,” he said, calling the process “ridiculous.”

 “They really upset the patients,” patient-resident Gloria Marks added after the meeting. “It seems like it went in one ear and out the other.”

USPS spokesman Duke Gonzales, who attended the Sept. 20 meeting alongside Honolulu District Manager Jodi Nascimneto, denied Miller’s claim that the shortened hours showed USPS is starting a shut-down process at Kalaupapa. During the early stages in the review process, he said, USPS officials realized the PO could serve the settlement during fewer hours per week.

Gonzales said he was unfamiliar with the Aug. 18 letter, but admitted to “glitches” in the national review procedure, which often involves computer-generated messages that district offices can’t control.

“I would hope the people [of Kalaupapa] won’t get too hung up on the particulars of the process and [instead] listen to what we’re saying, because the process itself is a complex process that we don’t necessarily have complete control of,” he said.

Although Gonzales said there is “one option that [USPS is] looking at [for Kalaupapa PO], and there are certain technical issues related to that one option,” he declined to say what the option was. Nothing has changed or been decided since the September meeting, he said, when representatives expressed hopes of contracting post office operations to an independent party.

Gonzales acknowledged USPS has received letters from Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka in support of Kalaupapa PO. Reps. John Mizuno and Faye Hanohano said they have also sent letters of support.

Steve Prokop, superintendent for Kalaupapa National Historical Park, said the National Park Service is supporting the DOH’s letters to USPS advocating to keep the Kalaupapa PO open.

“Hopefully this will all go away when people realize how illogical this actually is,” he said at last week’s meeting.

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