Bypass mail changes a setback for Barrow

Delivery and quality of goods are worse now, residents say

Posted: Monday, January 08, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Despite resistance from Barrow residents, Fairbanks businesses and air carriers, the U.S. Postal Service changed the bypass mail system to the North Slope in 2006.

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Freight that bypasses the post office and was flown directly to Barrow is now trucked up the Dalton Highway to the Deadhorse airport at Prudhoe Bay and then flown from there to Barrow.

Providing the trucking to the North Slope, Lynden Transport now receives and moves the bypass mail north on the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe from Fairbanks in a move by the postal service to save money.

But the bypass switch has detrimentally affected delivery and quality of goods, according to Barrow residents and businesses.

Officials with the Alaska Commercial Co., the largest grocery and dry goods store in Barrow, are frustrated with the situation.

"We are desperate; this is not working," said Michelle Adams, logistics manager for Alaska Commercial. "The flights are coming in at 2 a.m., we have to open up the store in the middle of the night to take deliveries, the produce is frozen, we have to pay extra labor costs. And now because the shelves have been empty, people are hoarding items, which has caused us to up our inventory in the store hundreds of thousands of dollars over what we used to carry."

Thankful to get the pallets of freight when they come, Adams said that the store manager is too busy to keep track of the spoilage costs.

"We are getting freight in the middle of the night on flatbeds that are not covered, unloading and sorting the frozen spoiled goods from the other items, and then taking loads of potatoes, onions and bananas to the dump, before they even go into the store," she said.

The postal service estimates that it spends more than $100 million yearly on bypass mail with Alaska air carriers.

Trucking the mail forced bypass mail carriers Alaska Airlines, Everts Air Cargo and Northern Air Cargo to change their flight routes. The new routing of the mail requires the air carriers to fly empty to Prudhoe, which increases costs with no revenue to offset crew time and fuel for the aircraft. These increases will eventually be reflected by the carriers in their quarterly expense reports to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT sets the rates for the postal service bypass mail per pound, per mile, based on all air carriers' expenses.

The postal service proposed the change based on a mandate from Congress to cut bypass mail expenses in Alaska. Postal service officials estimated that between $2.1 million and $2.4 million could be saved by trucking the approximately 10 million pounds of bypass mail destined for Barrow each year to the Deadhorse airport.

Air carriers estimate that the postal service will actually end up spending more money with the new plan.

Northern Air Cargo's chief executive officer, Bill Fowler, argued from the outset that this plan would not work.

"We think that the annual loss to the USPS will be somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000," Fowler said in mid-2006.

Fowler said increased expenses incurred by the airlines trying to meet the demand to move mail from Deadhorse will eventually cost the postal service more.

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