Investigation opened into summit mail service | SierraSun.com

Investigation opened into summit mail service

Erich Sommer, Sierra Sun

A group of Donner Summit residents say they don’t care if their mail is a day or so late, they just want reliable mail service on a consistent basis.

“It’s amazing how much mail goes astray up here,” said Donner Summit resident Rhodi Hainline.

Hainline has been receiving her mail at a post office box in the Soda Springs Post Office for the last six years. “I don’t even have important mail come to my box anymore, because I have [pay]checks sent to me, and I can’t take a chance on it.”

But two summit residents, fed up with mail that arrives sporadically, late or just doesn’t arrive, say complaining doesn’t do any good.

John and Lori Van Meter say they have filled out 14 postal complaint forms, or service cards, made calls and even written letters to the offices of U.S. Rep. Wally Herger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein regarding mail service on Donner Summit. But nothing has changed.

So last month, the Van Meters decided to contact the United States Postal Service and request they open an investigation into management of the post office.

They also mailed a letter to the Sierra Sun (printed on Jan. 10) outlining their complaints.

Susie Glover, a public information officer with the USPS, said Tuesday that the manager of postal operations in Sacramento that oversees the Soda Springs office has opened an investigation.

“The investigation is looking into the concerns outlined in [the Van Meters’ letter to the Sierra Sun],” Glover said.

Some summit residents were hesitant to comment on what they think the source of the problem is, and whether it’s specific to the Soda Springs Post Office or is more systemic.

But the Van Meters think it starts with Postmaster Mary Hanns.

“She’s the postmaster, and if she isn’t the problem, then she should be the solution,” said John Van Meter.

Hanns declined to comment to the Sierra Sun on the complaints voiced by local residents.

Since the investigation was started, Glover said the postal operations department has received several calls and encouraged more residents to contact the postal operations department.

“Some of the calls are complimenting [the postmaster],” Glover said. “We want people to call us. We need to know if there are concerns, but they need to be relevant and current. Some of the calls we have received are for complaints that are 10 years old E or they called just because someone didn’t like the way [the postmaster] looked at them. We have to have something legitimate and concrete.”

Glover said investigations of small, rural post offices like the one in Soda Springs are rare.

“Part of the postmaster’s job is to deal with any complaints and work with the community. It is very rare that we get complaints from smaller post offices,” she said.

Carrie Hoyt, who knows the mail business well from her 16 years as a delivery driver with Federal Express, has had problems similar to those of the Van Meters since she switched to her own post office box last May. She had been sharing one for several years before getting her own.

“There is always a percentage of loss. At Federal Express, it is less than 1 percent,” Hoyt said. “At the [Soda Springs] post office, it seems incredibly high.”

Hoyt said the high percentage of missing mail might be attributable, in part, to the lack of mail delivery to physical addresses.

“It may have something to do with physical addresses. Because there is no home delivery up there, some of the mail that only has a physical address may be returned to sender,” Hoyt suggested.

The Soda Springs post office does have supporters, however.

Paul Kos, in a letter to the Sierra Sun printed this week, said he had “nothing but glowing praise for this small town icon … The postmistress is helpful, diligent and friendly.”

But the Van Meters, who say the mail service has been unreliable for years, decided to request an investigation because they claim the missing mail is starting to affect their pocketbooks.

“I don’t have much else, but I have impeccable credit. I pay my bills on time,” said John Van Meter. “But [recently] I have had to pay a finance and a late charge because I didn’t get my mail.”

Other residents had similar complaints.

“I almost got my phone shut off and reported to a credit agency,” Hoyt said.

Even worse, Hoyt said, were the five contracts for snow removal, valued at $2,500, she almost lost out on because she never received contracts mailed to her from second homeowners. Hoyt owns Cascade Snow Removal.

“I do a mass mailing to try and get contracts [from second homeowners]. Five people called me months after sending in their contracts and said ‘Why haven’t you cashed my check?”

Hoyt said she ended up getting those five contracts, but has no idea how many others she may have lost out on.

“How many other people didn’t call me, and just went with somebody else?” she asked.

Hoyt said the missing mail also creates a burden for the sender.

“Their contract wasn’t returned, so these people have to go out and put a stop payment on the check.”

Hainline owns a specialty glass business and works nationwide, and said she has to have business checks and invoices sent via United Parcel Service and Federal Express at her own expense due to the unreliable service.

Hoyt, Hainline and Van Meter all said the delivery of magazines was particularly peculiar.

“I have a subscription to Sports Illustrated. You should get it about every Wednesday. But up there, one will come one day, then the next day I will get the previous week’s,” Hoyt said with a shrug.

John Van Meter said when he does get his magazines, they often appear used or soiled.

“They look like they have sat on somebody’s coffee table for a month,” he said.

Several residents said they didn’t change to post office boxes in Truckee because it was inconvenient.

“When I’m on vacation, I don’t want to have to drive to Truckee,” Hoyt said. “And it’s a pain to change the address on all your mail. It’s hard enough just changing boxes within the same post office.”

Donner Summit residents with comments, pro or con, on postal service may call the Manager of Post Office Operations in Sacramento at (916) 373-8317.

“We tried to fill out the normal complaint forms, but no one ever got back to us,” John Van Meter said.