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Oregon town finds it’s stuck in postal limbo

Mark Bolton, the owner of the Odell Sportsman Center, stands behind the counter in the store in Crescent Lake, Ore. Crescent Lake residents, who are without a post office, have post office boxes at the store.  (Associated Press)
Mark Bolton, the owner of the Odell Sportsman Center, stands behind the counter in the store in Crescent Lake, Ore. Crescent Lake residents, who are without a post office, have post office boxes at the store. (Associated Press)

USPS dragging its feet on replacing branch

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The first thing to know about the tiny community of Crescent Lake is that it is not Crescent, the former mill town about 18 miles away on U.S. Highway 97.

“I am not Crescent, Oregon. I am Crescent Lake,” said Linda Barron, a real estate broker in the mountain resort town tucked into the northwest corner of Klamath County. “They are two different spots.”

The second thing to know is that Crescent Lake residents want their post office back.

They’ve been fighting to restore full service to the remote area since the community’s post office burned down in December 2005. It took nine months to rebuild the general store where the office was housed, and in the interim, the U.S. Postal Service placed the branch on “emergency suspension” because the area lacked a suitable location.

Now, 3 1/2 years later, the branch’s future is still unclear. The office was discontinued sometime between 2006 and mid-2007, according to a USPS spokesman, but it is listed as active on the Postal Service Web site. And residents say they’ve never received an official notice that the branch has been closed.

In the meantime, residents said, they have post office boxes at the Odell Sportsman Center, where the post office used to be. And they’ve been told to use a new ZIP code – the same code used by Crescent – which regularly causes mail to end up in the wrong town or be delayed for days.

For more-involved mail transactions, including sending most packages, residents have to drive to Crescent, which in the winter involves miles of treacherous roads. And at least once, emergency responders went to Crescent, rather than Crescent Lake, by mistake.

Now, the Postal Regulatory Commission – a federal watchdog agency that oversees the Postal Service – is investigating the suspension of the branch at Crescent Lake and nearly 100 other rural post offices.

“It is evident that several post offices have been suspended for a number of years, and the Postal Service apparently has taken no effective action to reopen or close such offices,” the commission wrote in November.

That would violate Postal Service policies, which give local communities the right to comment on proposed closures and then appeal any closure decision.

The U.S. Postal Service didn’t take any shortcuts in deciding not to replace the Crescent Lake office, said spokesman Peter Hass.

“All of the proper procedures the Postal Service uses when discontinuing a post office were followed,” Hass said.

But Crescent Lake residents say they still haven’t received official word of the branch’s permanent closure. And the U.S. Postal Service Web site lists the Crescent Lake branch, and the old 97425 ZIP code, as active.

With two ZIP codes and two communities bearing similar names, the result is that mail intended for Crescent Lake often ends up in Crescent – or somewhere else entirely, said Kerry Ellington, a real estate broker and resort owner who’s lived there for nine years.

“It’s a nightmare,” Ellington said. “At Christmas, our packages ended up in La Pine. It’s like, how did it get over there?”

Recently, Ellington, Barron and other residents said, they’ve had trouble shopping online because Web sites sometimes reject their addresses as nonexistent.

Worse, potential homebuyers searching for vacation homes in Crescent Lake’s new ZIP code find themselves looking at a different community, a fact that hurts her business, Ellington said.

Even an official closure notice would be welcome, said Carol Goevelinger, the president of the Crescent Lake Community Action Team, because residents can’t appeal the decision until the Postal Service makes it final.

“We’ve tried to (appeal), and they’ve sent the packet back saying wait until it’s officially closed,” Goevelinger said.

If cost is the issue, the Postal Service should close either the office in Crescent or Gilchrest, where the branches are only a few miles apart, said Mary Doane, a retiree who spends half the year in Crescent Lake.

“If all they can afford is two, put them where they belong,” Doane said.

Even if that’s not possible, Goevelinger said, an electronic kiosk and separate ZIP code would solve most of the area’s problems.

“I think it’s realistic for Crescent Lake to have a unique ZIP code that says we’re Crescent Lake,” Goevelinger said. “We definitely need our identity back.”