Local news

Extra mile? Sorry, not in ol’ creed

Life in the country has been a little less idyllic for about 35 families who live out where the deer and the bobcats roam on North Idaho’s Old River Road.

What a gorgeous area. The residents live on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River (the west side) between the hamlets of Kingston and Prichard.

Trouble began for these folks about three weeks ago. The normally dependable postal driver suddenly stopped delivering the mail.

The residents were naturally perplexed. The weather couldn’t be blamed. This wild and woolly wilderness area has received substantially less snow this year than the citified streets of Spokane.

Besides, the school bus was making its rounds. Ditto the garbage truck.

So where was the mail?

Some residents might have wondered what had happened to that mythical postal credo.

You know, the one that goes: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Such poetry. Alas, there isn’t much room for mushy idealism in these grim economic times.

Few institutions have felt the recession’s squeeze like the poor U.S. Postal Service. The suspension of mail service on Old River Road is a microscopic glimpse of just how bad things are.

We’ll come back to that in a moment. First, a few disturbing facts:

The Postal Service lost $2.8 billion last year. Some cynics expect that number to be $6 billion this fiscal year.

Last year the service suffered the biggest drop in mail volume since the days of the Great Depression, down 9 billion pieces of mail from the previous year.

The reason? The Postal Service’s biggest users are financial institutions: banks, lending houses, credit companies …

And we all know how those paper pushers are doing, don’t we?

So the Postal Service is swimming in an ocean of red and looking high and low for ways to stop the bleeding.

Which brings us back to Old River Road.

Here’s the normal route the motor carrier took to serve these customers:

Drive up the newer and better Coeur d’Alene River Road, which is on the east side of the river. Cross over at the Steel Bridge near Prichard. Head down Old River Road, eventually delivering mail to residents like Richard and Ruth Clark and Ken and Karen Bieker.

That route wasn’t possible this winter. At fault was a four-mile stretch of despicable dirt road just past the west side of the Steel Bridge. The section had been rendered unsafe by a landslide, heavy snowpack and water damage.

Making it safe for winter navigation could cost $200,000 to $300,000, something Shoshone County officials say they may never do.

So for a time the motorized carrier literally went the extra mile.

He doubled back on the better Coeur d’Alene River Road, crossed the river at the lower Bumblebee Bridge and went up the Old River Road to make his rounds.

This added about 18 extra miles to the trip.

Miles that were outside his mail carrier contract.

In a fat economy such a minor indiscretion for the sake of continued good service would probably be overlooked.

Not in this cost-cutting climate, according to Stephen Rorie, the Postal Service’s consumer affairs manager for Eastern Washington and Idaho.

And so a decision was made. Stick to the contract. No more extra driving.

The Old River residents were notified of this change. Unfortunately, they were notified through the mail, which wasn’t being delivered.

Oops.

Word got out eventually when Clark drove to Kingston to ask the postal official what in the name of Cliff Clavin was going on.

To appease these restless natives, the USPS is giving residents free postal boxes in Kingston for one year or until the road gets fixed.

Good luck on that one.

Until then we’ll have 35 families burning gas to drive 12 to 30 miles to get their mail and bring it home.

Maybe they can organize a “mail pool” to go get it.

So there it is. The mail delivery definitely ain’t what it used to be.

But the people I spoke to assured me that The Spokesman-Review motor carrier who has that route is getting our daily newspaper to subscribers right on time.

Which means there have been no interruptions in Clark column delivery.

So really, how bad can life on Old River Road be?

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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