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Postal facility will stay open for three years

The U.S. Postal Service's William Street mail processing facility will remain open for at least three more years, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe told Sen. Charles E. Schumer this week.

Schumer's office announced the Postal Service decision Thursday. The move saves 700 jobs at the William Street facility and prevents all of metro Buffalo's mail from being shipped to Rochester every day to be processed, a step that could have added a day to local deliveries.

"The Buffalo processing facility is simply too important to the Western New York community and its 700 employees to be shut down, and I'm thrilled to announce that the postmaster general agrees," said Schumer, D-N.Y.

"Today's news means the Buffalo processing facility's doors will be open for years to come, providing Western New Yorkers with the timely mail delivery that they deserve."

Postal Service officials did not respond to requests to comment, but Schumer's office said the Buffalo facility survived because the Postal Service decided to adhere to postal delivery standards set in reform legislation that the Senate passed last month.

A provision in the bill prevents the agency from closing a processing center if the closing would end overnight mail delivery in any part of the region served by that center.

Since the proposed William Street closure would mean that locally delivered Buffalo mail would have to be trucked to a processing center in Rochester and then trucked back again, locally delivered mail would not meet that overnight standard.

The Postal Service contended it could save money by closing the Buffalo facility, but Schumer disagreed.

"It made no sense at all," he said. "It would end up costing them more money, I don't care what they say."

Noting that Buffalo is one of the 50 largest metro areas in the country and that it produces huge volumes of mail, he added: "I don't think they understood the geography."

The Postal Service's decision to adhere to the Senate-set delivery standard means the agency is expected to announce next week that it will close only 31 mail processing facilities between June 1 and Aug. 31, down from 252 that had originally been proposed for closure.

Facing a projected loss of $14.1 billion this year and further losses in the years ahead, the Postal Service proposed closing those processing centers as part of a wide-ranging reorganization plan.

But that plan ran into widespread opposition from Congress and the public.

"This was not unique to Buffalo," said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who for months has sharply questioned the Postal Service's claims that the Buffalo shutdown would save money. "Members of Congress were going ballistic in other areas as well."

Donahoe told Schumer about the Postal Service's decision at a meeting Tuesday night but asked that he not release the news until Thursday, the senator said.

Schumer said he met and spoke with Donahoe on the phone several times to push for keeping the Buffalo processing center open.

While the Postal Service's decision gives the William Street facility a reprieve, there's still a slim chance that a larger number of mail processing centers will be closed in the coming three years.

That could happen if Congress agrees on a postal reform bill similar to one pushed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Under Issa's bill, an independent commission would review postal processing centers to determine whether it makes financial sense to close them.

But congressional sources said it's highly unlikely that proposal will survive if Issa's bill passes the House and then has to be merged with the very different postal reform bill the Senate passed last month.

Higgins, who sought an inspector general review of the proposed Buffalo closure and was the Postal Service's loudest local critic in recent months, said the agency's reversal of course proves several important points.

"I think it just underscores the gross incompetence of the Postal Service" in proposing the processing center closures, he said. "And it shows the importance of representation to challenge the federal bureaucracy."

The 600 to 700 people who showed up at a public hearing on the proposed William Street closure made a difference, too, Higgins said. "They made a strong, compelling argument," he said.