Published November 15. 2012 4:00AM
Norwich - Nine months and one public meeting later, there's still no resolution to the uncertain status of the Yantic Post Office.
But on Wednesday more than 60 people - business owners, homeowners and condominium association members - crammed into an upstairs room of the Yantic Fire Engine Company No. 1 firehouse to voice concerns and discuss options with U.S. Postal Service employees about the community's small post office.
Most wanted to know when, if ever, the facility would reopen.
The Yantic Post Office closed suddenly at the end of business hours on Feb. 6. Customers arriving the next morning found notices in the windows and on the door stating that the building would be closed indefinitely for safety and security reasons. All 230 post office boxes were transferred to the Bozrah Post Office 1.2 miles away, and the lone employee in Yantic was transferred to Bozrah.
"It is in a state of disrepair," said Joe Mazzola, a regional manager of post office operations, of the Yantic facility. "I wouldn't send an employee in there every day. The final decision will depend on some of your suggestions."
Most attending said they had found alternate ways in the intervening months to buy stamps and send packages. But getting mail has been the hard part, because of the commute, mail mix-ups and shorter hours in Bozrah.
For Al Jonasch, it's a 5-mile drive "to find out I don't have any mail."
"You figure with gas prices now, I want Uncle Sam to burn his gas and not me burning mine," Jonasch said.
Mazzola tried to placate the frustrated crowd, which demanded answers to what seems an easy question: Why has a small, money-making post office been closed for nine months with no answers and no resolutions?
"I do care about the customers," Mazzola said. "I want to make sure you're not underserved. But the decision to close that post office permanently will not be made by me."
If it is closed, Mazzola said, there are options. Certain areas can apply for rural delivery and receive mail at home. Others, on the far side of the bridge spanning the Yantic River, can request a centralized box unit (CBU), a cluster of mailboxes located in a centralized area outside.
A CBU might be the best option, Mazzola said, for those in the Sunnyside East Condominiums, which is perched on a hill unreachable by postal truck.
"We just want our mail," said Lisa Bouchard, the condo association president.
Bouchard spoke of the hardship going to Bozrah presents to condo residents. With fewer, inconvenient hours, Bouchard said she rarely gets her mail.
"I leave work an hour early one day a week so I can get my mail for seven of my neighbors," she said.
But few answers were given about why the office was closed in the first place. Kenny Powchik, an acting manager of post office operations, said the Yantic postmaster called the police after an unspecified incident and upon their response, Norwich police officers noticed safety concerns at the post office. Among the concerns which police brought to the attention of the postal service, Mazzola said, was an issue with the floor in the building and the fact that there is only one entrance.
"But I'm not an engineer, I can't answer that," Mazzola said of what needs to be done to fix the building.
Ray O'Connell urged Mazzola to "go back to your people and say to them, 'get a hold of the owner'" and assess what fixes need to be made to the building.
"If you could get it open in a short period of time, we'd be all for it," he said. The Yantic fire department, of which O'Connell is a past fire chief, supports the reopening of the office too, he said.
After the meeting, Christine Dugas, a postal service spokeswoman, said an alternative not discussed Wednesday would be to have what is called a "village post office." That setup, Dugas said, involves a local business hosting the post office boxes and selling stamps and envelopes - a small-scale post office. Five local businesses were contacted about the idea, and one may be interested, she said.
Feedback from Wednesday's meeting, surveys on usage and other communication will be used to make a final decision, Dugas said, hopefully in the next 30 to 60 days.