On Sept. 16, the United States Postal Service announced that the Millfield Post Office would be suspended beginning Oct. 22, disappointing many residents. The building’s owner, however, disputes the Postal Service’s explanation, which is itself inconsistent.
In a letter to Millfield residents announcing the decision, Kathleen Patrick-Marchi, the manager of post office operations with USPS, said the Postal Service would not renew the Millfield Post Office’s lease agreement “due to amount (sic) of lease and safety issues.”
The letter cites issues during heavy rains, including the septic tank overflowing and water pooling at the collection box location and the building’s front entrance.
The building’s owner, Adams County resident John Stier, said the suspension of the post office came as a “total surprise.”
Stier said the issue of water pooling in the building’s entryway was never brought to his attention, nor was the issue of the septic tank overflowing. While he acknowledged the Postal Service expressed concern about rainwater flowing into the septic tank during heavy rains, he said USPS never requested that he repair or replace the tank.
After reading Patrick-Marchi’s letter, Stier said he contacted the Millfield Post Office and was told the toilet had never overflowed since the clerk started work at the office (though the clerk in question declined to speak with the Messenger). Stier further claimed that the septic tank overflowing from the toilet would not make sense given the way the septic system is constructed.
In addition to issues during heavy rain, Patrick-Marchi’s letter also states by way of explaining the office’s suspension, “The USPS arranged and paid for the [septic] tank to be pumped several times throughout the years.”
According to a lease agreement Stier shared with the Messenger, the USPS agreed to pay for this maintenance service in its previous lease agreement.
Stier said that he agreed to take over these payments after reaching a new lease agreement, however, and he shared receipts showing he paid to drain the septic tank twice in 2021 as “an indication of good faith.”
Prior to the suspension of the post office, Stier said he had attempted to negotiate a new lease with USPS since purchasing the building in the middle of 2020. At the same time, Stier said he made many investments to ensure the post office could operate over the long-term, including replacing the roof, gutters, furnace vent and thermostat, installing insulation and repairing loose siding.
Stier said the main concerns USPS expressed during lease negotiations were the cost of pumping the septic tank, which he agreed to take over, and potholes in the parking lot, which Stier agreed to repair. However, he said USPS still would not sign a new lease.
“After being shuffled around to several people, one of them finally told us that they were intending to close the Millfield location,” Stier told the Messenger. “In my humble opinion, they were not terribly serious about giving us a new lease from the beginning, based upon the way they shuffled us around.”
Patrick-Marchi’s letter to Millfield residents states that a community meeting will be held “in the future” to explain the Postal Service’s plans and solicit comments. The letter further states, “No final decision to permanently discontinue the Post Office has been made.”
USPS communications specialists contradicted Patrick-Marchi’s letter multiple times when speaking with the Messenger.
While the letter states firmly that the Postal Service will not renew its lease, Naddia Dhalai, a strategic communications specialist with USPS, told the Messenger that Postal Service’s current plan is to work with the building’s landlord to fix the issues with the septic tank and reopen the Post Office at its current location.
In contrast, Susan Wright, another strategic communications specialist, told the Messenger repeatedly that “all options are on the table” regarding the future of the post office, including permanent closure.
Stier said he still has not received any communication from USPS about repairing or replacing the septic tank, or other maintenance requests to address health and safety concerns.
Wright and Dhalai further contradicted Patrick-Marchi’s letter, stating that there are no plans to hold a community meeting about the post office’s future. Wright cited concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and said there would be a comment period for residents.
Dhalai, in contrast, said USPS would only hold a community meeting should the office close permanently, stressing again that this is not the current plan.
The Messenger spoke with several Millfield residents and other patrons of the Millfield Post Office, all of whom expressed disappointment about the suspension and concern about the office’s future.
Millfield resident Tammy Nichols said, “I’ve lived in Millfield most all my life, and my parents did, and they’ve always used this post office, and I’ve always used it... So we’re quite disappointed.”
Joe Clark, who has lived in neighboring Greens Run for about 20 years, expressed concern about post office patrons needing to travel to The Plains.
“People that don’t have a lot of money, that extra ten-mile trip, you know, just takes from their budget – hurts their wallet,” Clark said.
Millfield resident Travis Sheets said, “It’s definitely a big part of people’s lives around here. A lot of people around here don’t have cars or anything, so that’s gonna be a big chore if you have to get over to The Plains.”
Sheets and Nichols both expressed concern about the impact of the suspension on elderly patrons in particular.
“A lot of elderly people, you know, there’s no way they’re going to get to go to other post offices,” Nichols said.
To Nichols, the post office is part of what makes Millfield a community.
She said, “It’s been here forever... There’s a lot of notices that they put up for the post office, like when Trick or Treat’s going to be or something like that – there’s always notices posted there. And I just think… it’s all we have left. There’s nothing in Millfield but the post office.”
Public officials also expressed concern about the impact that the suspension of the post office would have on the community.
“I just think post offices have been the hub of small community interaction for a long time, and when you lose the post office you lose a little bit of that community,” said Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason.
Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel said, “We thought it was a good idea to keep it open, but obviously there’s lots of changes going on in the Postal Service.”
In general, USPS has attempted to cut costs in recent years, most recently under the leadership of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. For instance, starting Oct. 1, USPS began slowing its mail delivery, as CBS reported.
The number of post offices in the United States has declined steadily for over 100 years, after peaking in 1901 at 76,945, according to the USPS. The Postal Service cites the growth of free rural delivery as the primary reason the number of offices began to decline.
The Postal Service received its last public subsidy of taxpayer dollars in 1982, when the number of post offices stood at 30,155, according to USPS. As of 2020, that number was down to 26,362.
Eliason wrote a letter to the Ohio Valley District Office of USPS on behalf of the Athens County Commissioners urging them to reach a new lease agreement and keep the Millfield Post Office open.
According to data compiled by Jim Forte of Postal History, a post office has operated continuously in Millfield since 1847.