Postal service looks to vacate main office

The United States Postal Service (USPS) outlined plans for the possible sale and relocation of Westport's main post office during a public hearing on Thursday night in the Town Hall auditorium.

The postal service cited the current building's old age, large size, insufficient parking and poor handicap access as reasons for the possible relocation, which would be one of many such moves across the country by the organization aimed at cutting costs.

But many of the some two dozen residents on hand disputed those reasons.

The postal service also said that the future remains uncertain for the Saugatuck Post Office, which it recently shut down and replaced with "box trailers" at a nearby site. It is in the process of collecting surveys from Saugatuck customers, representatives said, and will use the feedback to inform the coming moves.

Many on hand complained that the surveys were difficult to come by and expressed skepticism that they would actually be taken into serious consideration.

At one point, someone asked why the surveys weren't being distributed to residents' mailboxes. Guy Polacco, manager of post office operations for the Connecticut district, said that printing "six-, eight-, twelve-thousand surveys would be cost prohibitive."

"I'll print them for you," offered Richard Girouard, building manager of the building that house the Saugatuck Post Office. But the offer was not readily accepted.

The main thrust of the hearing was to serve as the second step in the double-barreled process of selling the town's main post office, located at 154 Post Road E., and leasing a smaller facility to serve as the new headquarters.

But time and again, discussion returned to the lot of Saugatuck. Polacco said that he didn't want to repeat the same mistakes with the main post office.

"We moved really fast with Saugatuck and we didn't get all the information out," he said. "But the lesson's been learned."

Polacco said that the box trailers are usually only used following natural disasters or fires and that they're therefore hard to come by. When one became available, the postal service had to move fast or it would have been gone, he said.

The Saugatuck office was going to be an issue of safety "sooner or later," Polacco went on, "and we said `sooner.' Right now, there are no long term plans."

According to William Moncrief, a real estate specialist for the postal service, moving the main post office would be part of a nationwide effort by the USPS to downsize, following a $6-7 billion budget shortfall in the past fiscal year. The postal service, he said, does not receive tax dollars, and the recession has left it in "dire straits."

Moncrief called the selling of the main post office a "win-win" situation. The post office would get to cut its expenses, he said. And the Town of Westport would find a new buyer for the old building that would put it back on the tax rolls.

Moncrief laid out the following plan for the possible transition: In about a month, the postal service will start advertising that it's looking for a new facility in town. The ads will run for about a month. Then the postal service will post its findings publicly in two groups -- those offers it deems feasible and those offers it does not -- for about a month and accept public input. After that, the service will select a choice and move forward on leasing.

The goal in the search would be to find a "right-sized, right-located building" that includes ease of access and parking, the representatives said. But many on hand doubted that a suitable replacement could be found close enough to the downtown area.

Westport resident Sal Liccione said that most of the downtown businesses that use the post office walk to the station and don't need parking.

Harold Bailey of Westport noted that customers have a choice in packaging. He said that his business would have to start considering some of the post office's competitors.