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Some NW Minnesota post offices may close

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GRAND FORKS - Fifteen communities in northeast North Dakota and another 17 in northwest Minnesota have been added to the U.S. Postal Service's list for possible closure.

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They're among 3,653 - or about one in nine local offices, branches and stations nationwide, including 76 in North Dakota and 88 in Minnesota - that will be studied as the financially troubled Postal Service looks for ways to deal with declining revenue.

Earlier this year, the Postal Service announced it was reviewing 1,400 small post offices, including 220 in North Dakota, Montana and northwest Minnesota.

"It's no secret that the Postal Service is looking to change the way we do a lot of things," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said at a briefing Tuesday in Washington. "We do feel that we are still relevant to the American public and the economy, but we have to make some tough choices."

The post office operates 31,871 retail outlets across the country, down from about 38,000 a decade ago, but in recent years, business has declined sharply as first-class mail moved to the Internet, he said. In addition, the recession resulted in a decline in advertising mail, and the agency lost $8 billion last year.

Postal officials also have sought permission from Congress to reduce mail delivery to five days a week and to ease the requirement that they pay $5.5 billion annually into a fund to pre-pay future retiree medical benefits.

Being placed under review doesn't necessarily mean an office will close, federal officials said in Tuesday's announcement. The post office announced in January it was reviewing 1,400 offices for closing. So far, 280 have been closed.

And many of them might be replaced by what are being called village post offices - ones in which postage stamps are sold in local stores, libraries or government offices.

According to the National League of Postmasters, 620 are still in the review process and 300 will move to the new review list.

No decisions have been made about the fate of any post offices in this region, according to Pete Nowacki, Postal Service spokesman in St. Paul.

Like the earlier announcements, the Postal Service will conduct public meetings and allow 60-day comment periods in all communities on the list before any final decisions are made, he said.

Public comment

While local meetings have been held in all of the towns in the initial review, the public comment period has not expired in all of them.

Nowacki said Postal Service officials will provide details of the village post office proposal at the public meetings for the latest round of potential closures.

"It would be up to the individual business owner or the community at large - in the case of a government building - to decide whether they want to open a village office," Nowacki said.

The vast majority of sales in post offices are stamp purchases, officials said, and that can easily be handled at the new village post offices. In addition, those offices would accept flat-rate packages and some could provide post office box service. For passports or other more complex services, customers would have to go to a remaining regular post office.

Already some 70,000 locations such as supermarkets and department stores sell stamps.

Post offices targeted

The U.S. Postal Service has expanded its list of local post offices under review for possible closure throughout the country. The new list includes 15 in northeast North Dakota and 17 in northwest Minnesota.

* NW Minnesota: Borup, Brooks, Comstock, Donaldson, Euclid, Georgetown, Hendrum, Hitterdal, Lake Bronson, Lengby, Naytahwaush, Nielsville, Perley, Shelly, Strathcona, Wannaska and Waskish.

* NE North Dakota: Adams, Bisbee, Brocket, Clifford, Egeland, Forest River, Galesburg, Inkster, Lankin, Mekinock, Mountain, Oberon, St. Michael, Sharon and Starkweather.

Kevin Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald.

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