Post offices in northwest North Dakota will be receiving extra attention from the U.S. Postal Service to address the impact of the oil boom on mail delivery.
The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that in response to unprecedented population growth in parts of western North Dakota and eastern Montana, it will "take steps to ensure that staffing, transportation, facilities and equipment are adequate to establish and maintain excellent service to customers."
Senior level managers will be temporarily assigned to the area to evaluate local post office operations and determine the needs of customers. Another manager will assist property developers and postmasters in establishing mail delivery and working with address databases.
Postal customers in parts of the oil patch have been complaining about long lines at post offices, delayed mail and returned mail. Their frustrations peaked in December when the volume of holiday mail aggravated problems even further. Williston, Watford City, Ray and Tioga have been among the most affected communities.
"Growth in the oil patch area has pushed the demand for postal services to the point where we have, in some cases, failed to meet our customers' expectations," Roy Reynolds, Dakotas district manager for the Postal Service, said in a news release. "Over the next few weeks, we will be laying a foundation for positive change."
Information on the number of managers and where they will be headquartered wasn't available Thursday, although the personnel are expected to start the work almost immediately. They will be working with post offices associated with the 588 and 587 zip codes in northwestern North Dakota as well as oil-impacted post offices in eastern Montana.
The U.S. Postal Service also continues to recruit and train additional staff.
"We're hiring now," Reynolds said. "The Postal Service is a great place to work. We need to be creative in getting that word out."
Current job openings listed online at (about.usps.com) include new postings for a substitute rural carrier and a transitional city carrier in Minot. "Transitional carrier" describes a temporary, long-term position.
The openings include a clerk and substitute rural carrier in Watford City; a city mail carrier, mail processing clerk and substitute rural mail carrier in Williston; a mail processing clerk in Stanley; and a substitute rural mail carrier in New Town.
Postmaster relief positions are available in Ray, Roseglen, Fortuna, Zahl and Cartwright. These relief positions often are part-time and aid small post offices with one-person staffs.
Kim Steffan, city auditor in Ray, said she hears the complaints, including two on Thursday morning, from residents who are frustrated with the local post office and its restricted window hours. Lately, residents have been concerned about returned mail from the local post office, which has been staffed by temporary workers until a vacancy can be filled. Steffan said the city has had mail returned as undeliverable even though the recipients have lived at those city addresses for many years.
So actions by the U.S. Postal Service to look into fixing the problems is good news, she said.
"It's a wonderful thing," she said. "That will be great."
Peni Peterson, city auditor in Watford City, agreed that the Postal Service announcement is good news.
"It has been needed, and I think once they are here, they will realize maybe the struggles and the frustrations we are having," she said. "A lot of the frustrations that we have are accurate, and I think they will be able to see that first-hand."
Peterson said she hopes that once the Postal Service realizes the load that its existing employees labor under at the Watford City post office that it will both hire more help and raise wages to better compete for and compensate workers.