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ANCHORAGE - Since the demise of Reeve Aleutian Airways, people in remote Adak have experienced delays in getting mail, with priority mail occasionally taking two or three weeks to arrive and nonpriority packages a month or more, according to Mayor Agafon Krukoff.
"It's a ridiculous situation," said Krukoff, who wrote to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens this month asking for help. Stevens is an Alaska Republican.
Adak, population 316, is about 1,300 miles or three hours by jet from Anchorage. But mail doesn't fly on the regular jet service.
Mail service deteriorated when Reeve Aleutian Airways went out of business last December, Krukoff said. Reeve used to fly into Cold Bay, Dutch Harbor, Adak and other communities. Mail to Adak came in once or twice a week then.
Since Reeve shut down, PenAir has cobbled together both passenger and mail service using smaller planes.
Passengers and bags get priority over mail on those flights, with priority mail getting in as space allows.
Because Postal Service rules require nonpriority mail to move by cheaper surface means whenever possible, nonpriority mail goes by boat from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor once a week. From there, it is flown by PenAir to Adak, where it still faces a lower priority than passengers.
Then there's the weather. It's often bad at the end of the Aleutians, and when it is, planes can't fly. That combination means mail backs up in Dutch Harbor for weeks, Krukoff said.
Krukoff wants nonpriority mail to come to Adak on a large DC-9 jet that Evergreen International Airlines flies once a week from Anchorage to Adak as part of a federal contract for what is called essential air service.
Evergreen says it was promised 5,000 pounds of mail weekly to help pay for the flights. But the airline has carried almost no mail so far, said Jerry Rock, president of Evergreen, partly because of Postal Service rules.
Evergreen is not allowed to carry nonpriority mail because the rules say nonpriority mail can go only on airlines with at least three scheduled flights a week to a community.
"Evergreen does not qualify," said Steven Deaton, a network planning specialist with the Postal Service. "We didn't write the federal statutes, but we have to follow them."
Deaton said the Postal Service started tracking performance of mail to Adak a couple of weeks ago. If that investigation finds long delays unrelated to the weather, the agency can override its rules and allow Evergreen to carry the mail, Deaton said.
Other Aleutian communities say they have been similarly affected since Reeve went out of business.
"It takes a long time for people to get anything," said Gilda Shellikoff, a tribal administrator for False Pass, an Unimak Island community of about 70 people. "We're having terrible mail problems."
Krukoff and Shellikoff said some families may not get Christmas packages in time this year.
The supplies that False Pass ordered for the community Christmas play never arrived. Someone ended up making the purchases in Anchorage and flying back to the village with them. Prescription medicines can get stacked up in Dutch Harbor, too.
In Washington, Sen. Stevens said he was aware of Adak's situation and had added a provision to a bill that would allow the agency to turn all mail delivery for Adak over to Evergreen, or whatever airline has the essential air service contract. But that bill is not expected to move out of Congress this year, he said.