One councilman’s tale of snail mail

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Councilman Peter Reich weighs in with his personal experience with Shelter Island mail problems.

Shelter Island Councilman Peter Reich questions why places more rural than his hometown have home delivery while residents here don’t. He’s also baffled  why a geographical area as small as Shelter Island needs two post offices.

It’s not just idle speculation, but is driven by his problems — the same as many Islanders —  receiving packages and important first-class mail because of ZIP code confusion and other mail snafus.

Paying salary and benefits for two postmasters and staff when a much larger town like neighboring Southold manages with a single post office and ZIP code might be “a small piece of the problem” why the United States Postal Service is having difficulty  operating at a profit, Mr. Reich said. (Just a week ago, the USPS announced a plan to eliminate Saturday mail deliveries as of August 1 in an effort to cut overhead costs.)

Mr. Reich visited Brooklin, Maine, last summer and discovered that while the community is small and houses are far apart, residents there have home delivery.

The problems Mr. Reich and others in the community have encountered receiving all of their mail aren’t simply the fault of the postal service, the councilman said. Company data bases that reject or ignore corrected addresses also complicate the issue, as do limits on using post office boxes to order certain items.

If Mr. Reich buys a new camera or printer that comes with a rebate offer, he often has to forego the rebates because — you guessed it — some companies won’t mail rebate checks to a Post Office box number. He’s tried putting in his street address with the box number in parentheses as postal officials advised, but still his filings for rebates are frequently rejected.

“I have lost several hundred dollars in filed, but not received rebates,” he said.

Cellphones? Don’t get him started. In line with limits imposed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cellphones can’t be sent to box number. But the carriers insist the phones must be sent to the same addresses used for monthly billing purposes, Mr. Reich said.

“Living on Shelter Island, we have to use our PO box as our billing address, otherwise we won’t get our bills,” he said. “But we can’t get a new phone, a real Catch 22.”

For those who have been following the Reporter’s series on the Island’s mail problems, you’ll recall they started with Island resident Dan Fokine resorting to having his AT&T cellphone sent to his in-laws in Maine, who then sent it to him on Shelter Island.

Mr. Reich’s problems are complicated because he currently lives at an address considered to be in the 11964 ZIP code area in the Center while he has continued to maintain his box at the Heights Post Office because that’s where he first lived on the Island. When he enters data with his street address and the 11965 ZIP, he receives error messages telling him the address doesn’t exist.

Other residents have told the Reporter they’ve been told they live in Sag Harbor or East Hampton, not Shelter Island.

Mr. Reich has twice had packages delivered by United Parcel Service to an address in the Heights, rather than where he lives because of the ZIP code confusion.

“When ordering on line, we often don’t know whether a company will ship via USPS, UPS, DHL or FedEx,” he said. Catalogs come in through the postal service, but merchandise isn’t always shipped that way, he added.

Then, as if the confusion of two ZIP codes on the Island isn’t enough to screw up mail, add that a lot of company databases don’t have enough space to include Shelter Island Heights, so they shorten it to Shelter Island. That automatically means it will change, for example, the 11965 ZIP Mr. Reich has listed as his to 11964.

Finally, there is a postal service app that tech savvy people may elect to use. Not Mr. Reich.

He has entered about 25 addresses into the app on his iPhone where a Google map appears and correctly shows the location. But then he gets a message that the address doesn’t exist.

“Only one of the 25 I tried did [work],” the councilman said. “Perhaps the USPS should hire Google to deliver the mail.”