New Castle mail processing center under scrutiny by U.S. Postal Service

| Thursday, April 30, 2009

A mail processing center in Pittsburgh's North Side easily could handle extra volume if the Postal Service decides to close a smaller center in New Castle, Lawrence County, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman said Wednesday.

Postal officials began a feasibility study about a week ago on the New Castle center's operations. It's the first step in what could become a five-month process involving public meetings, as officials try to gauge whether the plant's functions should be consolidated elsewhere.

A dozen mail centers across the country are being analyzed. "It stems from the economy. We are seeing redundant operations in close proximity to each other" at a time when mail volume is shrinking, said Tad Kelley, spokesman in Pittsburgh.

Postal union officials are trying to prevent closings.

Charles Pugar, president of the Pittsburgh Metro local of the American Postal Workers Union, said he opposes any attempt to close the New Castle center.

Pugar said closing the New Castle center not only would inconvenience customers but would mean additional costs to take mail from the Lawrence County area to another site, only to send some of it back. He said the Postal Service may be rushing into a decision.

The North Side center off California Avenue is a 24-hour operation that routes about 800,000 pieces of "raw" mail daily, Kelley said. About 900 employees staff the center, and 100 more are in district administrative offices in the complex, which opened in 1982.

The center serves much of Western Pennsylvania plus the West Virginia panhandle and parts of Ohio, Kelley said.

The center is at least four times bigger than the one in New Castle, he said, and it also outsizes processing facilities in Erie, Altoona and Johnstown.

The New Castle center has 200 employees who process 1.75 million pieces of mail each day. But Kelley said much of that could be the type of processed mail — credit card bills and catalogs, for example — that's handled locally at a bulk mail processing plant in Marshall.

Kelley said many mail centers were built close to railroad lines and airports, and the Postal Service uses trains and planes less often these days.

The Postal Service estimates it will run $6 billion in the red this year, and is looking at cuts that will have minimal impact to service. Nationally, mail volume fell by 4.5 percent in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

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