Meeting to address Moline's cluster mailbox issues

Originally Posted Online: April 14, 2012, 7:17 pm
Last Updated: April 15, 2012, 8:39 am
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By Dawn Neuses,

MOLINE -- City Attorney Maureen Riggs plans to arrange a meeting among city officials, Moline Postmaster Dixie Bentley and residents who are upset that their mail is being delivered to a cluster mailbox rather than individual homes.

The cluster mailbox, recently installed on city right-of-way on the west side of 13th Street, just north of 36th Avenue, serves residents living between 12th and 13th streets and 35th and 36th avenues. It is one of four recently placed on city right-of-way in various places.

Ms. Riggs said Moline's goal for the meeting is to understand the intentions of the post office about adding cluster mailboxes, and to work out a city-wide policy on their installation. The city also is concerned about safety at the 13th Street cluster box, which is close to the street, she said.

Residents in the area received a letter from Postmaster Bentley in late March stating the cluster mailbox was installed for use during street construction this summer. "To recover the cost, when construction is done your area will stay cluster-type delivery," the letter stated.

Fred Carman, who lives in the 1200 block of 35th Avenue, understands the need for cluster boxes during construction. However, he said, after construction, he and most of his neighbors want curbside delivery reinstated.

Mr. Carman said there are 26 homes in the neighborhood, and 25 are occupied. He has 39 signatures on a petition -- which represents 23 of the residences -- requesting reversal of the USPS decision cited in the letter to make the cluster boxes permanent after construction is complete this summer.

Mr. Carman said there are no plans to install a sidewalk on the west side of 13th Street leading to the cluster mailboxes, the road is narrow, and there is no place to park while retrieving the mail -- all issues creating safety concerns. He said the resident living furthest from the cluster mailbox faces a one-mile round trip to retrieve mail.

Residents also question whether the 13th Street box is being installed contrary to postal regulations.

According to the Postal Operations Manual ( cluster boxes in a residential housing community "must be safely located so that customers are not required to travel an unreasonable distance to obtain their mail. Normally, within one block of the residence is appropriate," it states.

The operations manual states existing mail delivery also can be converted to a more economical and efficient mode. "Delivery managers can go into any delivery territory where delivery had been established for over 1 year and solicit to convert the model of delivery if it would be cost beneficial to the Postal Service."

The manual, however, says that customer signatures must be obtained prior to any conversion. "Each owner must agree to the conversion in writing. Owners who do not agree must be allowed to retain their current mode of delivery."

Mr. Carman said he never was asked prior to the change to a cluster box. "All we got was the letter," he said.

Richard Watkins, USPS regional spokesman, said the post office usually solicits resident feedback, but if safety or security is an issue -- if it is a high crime area, there are loose dogs, or vacant homes -- a cluster box can be installed without resident input.

The USPS was granted permission from the Moline City Council on March 27 to use city right-of-way to install cluster mailboxes outside an apartment building at 2200 7th Ave.; and at 2129 43rd St. and 631 45th St., both established, residential neighborhoods.

Postmaster Bentley said those three cluster mailboxes were installed due to safety issues.

Moline's property management coordinator Chris Mathias said that when the Moline Post Office requested permission to install the three cluster boxes on right-of-way, he was told budget cuts were driving the change. It takes a carrier less time to deliver mail to a cluster box and requires less fuel, "cutting down on costs and resulting in a savings," Mr. Mathias said he was told.

According to the Postal Operations Manual, "In the event an improper mode of delivery is extended by a postal carrier or manager, the service will be withdrawn, provided that the error is detected within 90 days. If the error is not detected within 90 days, the service will remain in place."

Mr. Watkins said in an email, "no final decision has been made on whether or not to maintain" the cluster mailboxes on 13th Street permanently. Ms. Bentley said she is considering all possibilities and taking all feedback from the residents seriously.

Mr. Carman said on Thursday he plans to send the petition from he and his neighbors to Postmaster Bentley, city staffers and at least two aldermen.

Ms. Riggs said the city has the authority to regulate what is placed on city right-of-way, but has no authority over how the postal service delivers mail. "We do think (13th Street) is a bad site because of its locations and proximity to the intersection," she said.

Mr. Mathias said aldermen gave city administrator Lew Steinbrecher the authority on March 27 to approve future cluster mailboxes on public right-of-way without city council approval. He said Mr. Steinbrecher has not granted the USPS permission to install any additional cluster mailboxes.

Mr. Mathias said cluster mailboxes are not something the city encourages, but they likely are the future for the postal service.

Postmaster Bentley said cluster mailboxes commonly are installed in new residential housing developments across the United States.


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