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Short-staffed Skagway Post Office awash in mail

USPS says they're trying to get office fully staffed, sending help from Juneau area

Posted: June 5, 2012 - 11:05pm

Skagway is looking for new postal employees. The post office there has three vacancies, hampering its operations.

City Manager Tom Smith got a look at that last weekend.

“I went there to pick up my own mail on Saturday, there must have been 20 people waiting to pick up packages,” at the understaffed office, he said.

“It was a fairly significant wait,” he said.

The town with less than 1,000 year-round residents gets very busy during the summer as tourist season heats up, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski heard an earful on a visit last weekend.

When she got back to Washington, D.C., she quickly shot off a letter to Postmaster General Michael Donohue to make sure he knew how important post offices are in Alaska.

“Skagway has no pharmacy, so all medications are shipped to the community through the mail,” she wrote.

“I am told that due to the current situation at the post office, medications have not been delivered in a timely manner,” which Murkowski said put as risk those on diabetes, heart or other medications.

She said she was told mail was stacking up for three weeks in the back of the post office, they’ve gone as long as five days without any delivery at all, it can take 20 days to get priority mail and can result in late delivery of bills and other time-sensitive materials.

On her trip, Murkowski visited the post office with Mayor Stan Selmer and called the situation “intolerable.”

United States Postal Service Spokesman Ernie Swanson in Washington State acknowledged the problems in Skagway.

The Skagway Post Office is authorized to have a postmaster and three other employees during the summer, but currently has three vacancies, he said.

“Last week we began sending a couple of employees from Juneau to Skagway to help out with the workload there and we’ll continue to do that until we can get some permanent replacements,” Swanson said.

The USPS first sought someone already in the postal service who was interested in moving to Skagway.

“We have been unable to find employees inside the postal service that are interested in going to work there, so we have been advertising on the outside,” Swanson said.

Finding local employees may not be so easy either. Last year about this time Skagway posted the lowest unemployment rate in Alaska, with only two dozen unemployed residents of a workforce of 861. The previous year it was even lower, 2 percent unemployed, or 17 people.

Swanson said applicants for the jobs will have to apply and take a test, but so far it has been difficult.

“We’re having problems getting qualified, interested parties to either apply or take the test,” he said.

Murkowski Tuesday moved to keep the heat on, setting up an email address to hear from Skagway residents about experiences or concerns with the Skagway Post Office’s operations. The address is: Skagway@murkowski.senate.gov.

Swanson said the post office will have to keep sending Juneau staff to help out in Skagway while the hiring process takes place.

“It may take a bit of time,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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