Residents in Darwin learned earlier this month that the U.S. Postal Service will be suspending operations at their local post office, forcing them to retrieve their mail 25 miles away in Keeler, in a region of the county that does not have public transportation.
In a letter mailed to Darwin residents Nov. 30, the USPS said the Darwin Post Office, located at 251 Reddy St., will be suspended effective Monday, Dec. 31 because “lease negotiations with the current landlord have failed and attempts to locate a suitable new location within the city limits of Darwin have been unsuccessful.”
Lynda La Force, Post Office Operations manager for the Bakersfield Leadership Team and Sierra Costal District, which includes Inyo County, wrote that the Postal Service will continue efforts to find a new location for the Darwin Post Office.
Some Darwin residents said they feel there is a lack of transparency on the Post Office’s part.
In a letter to USPS Consumer Advocate Services in Washington, D.C., Darwin resident Kathy Goss said the landlord for the current Darwin Post Office location was unaware that lease negotiations had failed.
“ … (A)t least two property owners, and perhaps more, have expressed willingness to have a modular unit placed on their property,” Goss’ letter states. “At least one of these people has spoken directly to John Fraher, USPS real estate specialist. In other words, there are properties in Darwin that could be used for this purpose.”
In her Nov. 30 letter to USPS customers, La Force said residents will be able to retrieve their mail from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m.-noon Saturday at the Keeler Post Office. “Twenty-four hour access to Post Office boxes are available at the Lone Pine Post Office (38 miles away) … if Keeler’s hours of operations are not convenient,” La Force said.
Goss said that in 2011, Inyo County Public Works staff attempted to have “cluster boxes” for mail delivery erected at a central location in Darwin, which would allow the Post Office to deliver mail to the small community. Originally, Goss said, the Postal Service rejected the county’s proposal, claiming that liability was an issue.
Goss said the county identified another area for the cluster boxes, but “the Post Office dropped the ball on that.”
Goss also said that the Keeler Post Office does not have enough mail boxes to accommodate the 58 Darwin residents with P.O. Boxes.
“Many residents of Darwin rely on the mail for medicines, income and family connections,” Darwin resident Jude Greenburhg said. “We are a remote, rural town as it is – the Postal Service is our lifeline.”
Darwin citizens gathered earlier this month to have a community meeting to discuss the Post Office issue and brainstorm ideas for a solution.
Fifth District Supervisor-elect Matt Kingsley, who attended the meeting, said Darwin’s residents “were very reasonable. They just want to maintain services.”
One problem residents said they are facing is a lack of information from the USPS.
“It seems that incorrect procedures for suspension without due reason have taken place, and an unacceptable solution proposed of having to go to Keeler where they are only open for two hours a day and they do not have the mail boxes or facility to accommodate Darwin’s mail needs,” Greenburgh said.
Representatives from the USPS said answers are elusive because they have not yet had time to fully assess the situation.
“We are very early in the process and as we learn more, I will do my best to keep you and the community informed,” USPS Media Contact James Wigdel said. “Keep in mind that the Darwin Post Office will not be technically closed, but operations are being suspended because lease negotiations with the current landlord have failed and we have not yet found a suitable replacement prior to us having to move out.”