Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Maintaining Kapolei post office crucial

The following appeared in this morning's Honolulu Star-Advertiser. LInk here. (may require online subscription)

Like many West Oahu residents, I was taken aback by the United States Postal Service's announcement that the Kapolei post station might close, along with three others in Hawaii and nearly 3,650 stations across the country. After all, the continued growth of our "Second City" seemed to distinguish Kapolei from the other communities on the USPS list. As the Star-Advertiser's Aug. 13 editorial maintained ("‘Second city' should have a post office"), it is vital that postal service, in one form or another, remains in our burgeoning community.

However, while maintaining Kapolei's postal service is crucial, it is important to realize that the proposed closures are just another sign of how technology is changing our habits. Just as digital books and online bookstores precipitated Borders' recent closing, our increased reliance on e-mail, online bill payment and other shipping methods have significantly impacted USPS.

As a quasi-independent federal agency, USPS receives no taxpayer-funded appropriations from the U.S. Congress, and instead generates revenue through postage and services. Though the cost of a stamp rose steadily over the last few decades, it has not been enough to turn a profit as the use of services dropped significantly. USPS has also struggled to meet retirement and health care obligations to its employees, all leading to billions in losses in recent years.

In Kapolei, the current station's limited hours and limited parking have made it difficult to adequately meet the community's needs. However, Kapolei may be in better shape than other, more rural areas on the mainland (or the Kalaupapa settlement on Molokai), where the next closest office is at least 20 miles away. The Kalaeloa/Barbers Point post office is less than two miles from the main Kapolei office, and unlike the main station, there is plentiful parking. USPS also owns the Kalaeloa station land, eliminating the expense of costly rents. While hours are currently limited, that could potentially change, particularly if the Kapolei station is closed. Finally, shifting more business to the Kalaeloa location could help boost further economic activity that may accelerate the revitalization of the area.

Another option is a "contract postal unit," in which local businesses offer postal services. Kapolei currently has one small contract postal unit, located in Armac Printing, and depending on the location, size and hours of service of another contract postal unit, these facilities could be a viable alternative to replace the main station or work in partnership with the Kalaeloa station to give better choices to Kapolei businesses and residents.

No matter what type of postal service we envision for our community, it is critically important that we make our opinions known, as the period for public comment draws to a close on Sept. 23. USPS is accepting written comments via mail (District Manager, USPS, 3600 Aolele St., Honolulu, HI 96820), but has received only five letters regarding Kapolei as of this writing. USPS has also mailed a survey to area postal customers, and will host a public meeting on Thursday, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Kapolei High School Cafeteria, so I urge area residents and businesses to take advantage of these opportunities to share their thoughts.

Ultimately, though, our changing habits mean that a full-service postal office in every community may be a thing of the past. It is also clear that the post office still is an important part of many communities, including Kapolei. Though the only certainty is that tomorrow's postal service will not look like yesterday's, or even today's, now is the time to speak up about the best way to keep essential postal services available in Kapolei.

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