P.O. meeting postponed, problem stretches back years

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | A promised meeting between the community and U.S. Postal Service officials has been postponed until sometime after Easter.

It will be sometime after Easter before Shelter Islanders get a meeting with a United States Postal Service official to discuss their problems with ZIP code confusion that results in their sometimes not getting all their mail.

But that’s noting new since Islanders have been waiting nine years for action.

The meeting is being arranged by Oliver Longwell, communications director for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). The meeting had originally been slated for this week, but Mr. Longwell couldn’t get a postal service official to clear a schedule in order to appear on the Island.

It’s not the first time Islanders have raised their voices in protest about their difficulties with the postal service. And it’s not the first time Mr. Bishop has been thrust into the fray to try to resolve the issues that still result in some first-class mail and packages failing to reach intended recipients.

It was in February 2004 that new regulations went into effect requiring box numbers on mail that resulted in a lot of mail being received to senders.

Councilman Peter Reich tried then as he is trying now to help resolve difficulties he maintains are the result of computer glitches.

It started with many computer databases not allowing Shelter Island Heights to be included in their listings because of the length of the words. Accordingly, with “Heights” lopped off, those with boxes in that area in the 11965 ZIP code area saw the numbers changed to 11964 — the ZIP code used by he Center Post Office.

The result was a lot of mail being returned to senders and people defaulting on insurance and other bills, having their vehicle registrations and drivers licenses out of date and, in some cases, having their credit ratings decline because of lack of payments on bills they never received. Mr. Reich, then, as now, complained of the inability to get rebates on products he had purchased because such rebates could only be sent to street addresses, not post office boxes.

And most then, as now, agreed the fault wasn’t with local post office workers who were scrambling to get mail where it was intended to go. Instead they blamed the United States Postal Service that failed to make policy adjustments to suit communities like Shelter Island where there is no home delivery.

Islanders used various methods to circumvent problems, listing their street addresses with box numbers in parentheses or adding their box numbers to their five digit ZIP codes so that someone whose box might be 22 in would add 0022 to the 11964 or 11965 ZIP code.

But the tighter federal restrictions imposed in 2004 dictated that all efforts of residents and local post office workers to cooperate in getting the mail to intended recipients even when it was mis-addressed had to stop.

The reason for the stricter rules by the postal service was sorting being done not by hand but by optical scanning machines that made it difficult to process incorrectly addressed mail, officials told then supervisor Art Williams. Ultimately, Postal Service Long Island District Director Thomas Rosati promised that every effort would be made on Shelter Island to assure mail reached intended recipients despite the new rules. Still, he said, as post office veterans retired and new workers came in, he couldn’t guarantee they would have the institutional knowledge of where specific pieces of mail should be, correctly directed.

The problem then, as now, rests largely with computer databases that depend on human beings to untangle what machines have wrought, Mr. Reich continues to say.