By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
WEBBERS FALLS — A “great weight was lifted” from residents of this southeastern Muskogee County town who rallied Thursday to save the local post office.
The postal facility was one of 320 across the state being eyed for closure. Public resistance, however, shifted officials’ focus from closing facilities to reducing hours of operations.
Nearly 90 residents who gathered outside the post office here Thursday afternoon feared U.S. Postal Service officials would close their post office. Instead, they learned the post office would remain open, with services provided six hours each weekday and six-day delivery.
“We’re not closing the post office, we’re just realigning the hours of operation,” said Kim Kerns, manager of post office operations for the U.S. Postal Service. “I can’t change the number of hours the post office will be open, but I can tweak the time of day.”
Kerns, who shared with townsfolk the results of a recent survey, said the hours of operation tentatively scheduled will be from 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. weekdays. The Webbers Falls facility will be closed from noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and on Saturdays.
Residents who didn’t complete and return one of the 751 surveys sent to post office patrons were given a second chance to weigh in. Kerns said those results will be tallied and included in the final compilation, which will be posted in about a week.
A final determination of hours, which will be based upon the survey results, will be posted at the post office at that time. Kerns said she expects the post office will begin operating under the new hours on about May 1.
“I feel like a great weight has been lifted,” said Inez Thomas, who worked at the Webbers Falls Post Office more than 42 years before retiring about 30 years ago. “It’s been a long time since I worked here, but I still feel connected to this place.”
Hal Myers and his wife shared Thomas’ sentiment, saying as long as they keep the post office “open at all, we’re happy.” Lottie Hufford, who organized Thursday’s rally, said the “post office is important to our little town.”
Mayor Jeff Carter said there is widespread support for the post office, and expressed satisfaction about federal officials’ decision to keep the facility open.
“This is a town filled with good people,” Carter said just before Kerns’ announcement. “There are a lot of good people who care about this town, and they deserve to have a post office.”
Kern said the U.S. Postal Service began talking about closing local facilities about a year and a half ago. Public backlash, however, forced officials to tack toward alternative solutions. The consensus among postal patrons statewide favored reduced operating hours, an idea favored by respondents of the survey sent to Webbers Falls patrons.
Of the 751 surveys delivered to Webbers Falls postal patrons, 235 were returned. From those responses, postal officials found that 86 percent, or 201 respondents, backed a plan to realign operating hours. Thirteen respondents, or 6 percent, supported a delivery only option while the remainder favored using a nearby post office, village post office or had no opinion.
“The biggest concern was closure — that is not what we’re doing,” Kern said. “We used to worry about hours, now we worry about minutes.”
Kern said other than the hours of operation, nothing else will change. Access to delivery receptacles will remain unchanged as a result of the realignment of hours.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.