(July 13, 2014) LAKE PLACID — Traditional mail delivery has returned to businesses along East Interlake Boulevard and North Main Avenue in Lake Placid. Controversial mail distribution centers — commonly called “cluster boxes” — were removed Friday.
One of the multiple sets of cluster boxes was on the front porch of the Highlands County Health Department on North Main Avenue; the second was in the parking lot at the Smoke Shack BBQ restaurant on East Interlake Boulevard.
The mail carrier who had typically brought mail to the uptown businesses instead, last week, handed out envelopes containing keys. Each key was for an assigned box in the new mail distribution centers, as far as two blocks away in some instances. The change would save the United States Postal Service about $31,800 per year, spokesman Enola Rice said.
The outcry from business owners, managers and staff was immediate. The most common complaints were a lack of notice the change was coming and a decision to install the cluster boxes without the consent of the property owners.
Rice said the site determination was made by Lake Placid Postmistress Tanya Schmidt. The installations were then authorized by Schmidt and a Growth Management Coordinator from a regional office.
Schmidt “was unaware that permits were required and expedited the installation of the boxes in the interest of safety,” Rice said. The safety aspect was not explained.
Ironically, the site chosen for the East Interlake Boulevard cluster boxes is on property owned by Miles Lambert, the same man who was ordered arrested by a Lake Placid postmaster in December 2009 after he refused to stop offering candy for donations as a Lions Club project to provide eyeglasses to children.
Lambert, who has been a Lions Club member in Lake Placid for far more than 60 years, argued he had always been allowed to stand on the sidewalk outside the post office and offer candy. The argument escalated, Lambert refused to leave, and police were called. Lambert was charged with trespass after warning, a misdemeanor.
After a four-month path through the judicial system, Lambert complied with the terms of a settlement agreement and prosecution was dropped by the State’s Attorney. A Lions Club gum ball dispensing machine was later removed from the post office lobby, too.
“I couldn’t believe they (USPS workers) showed up on my property and installed their boxes without even having the common courtesy of asking,” Lambert said this week. “They’re wanting me to assume liability for all those people coming and going from those boxes every day and I’m not having it.”
Lambert said he immediately called Schmidt to protest. “She said it was a central location,” he said. “I said, ‘You didn’t ask permission.’”
He demanded the mail distribution boxes be removed within 48 hours. If they remained, a fence would be erected all the way around the boxes to prevent their use, he said.
A short time later, Lambert said, Lake Placid Town Administrator Phil Williams contacted him and asked the fence decision be delayed. The issue was on the town council agenda for Monday evening and would be thoroughly discussed. Lambert said he agreed, conditional on a new removal date of Wednesday, July 16.
“I decided to give them a couple of more days,” Lambert said. “I wasn’t going to change my mind but I was willing to work with Mr. Williams.”
The topic isn’t likely to draw much discussion at the town council meeting since the boxes have been removed.
Jerome Bell from the USPS Orlando maintenance division pulled into the Smoke Shack BBQ parking lot at noon Friday in a stake bed truck with a liftgate to hoist the boxes. He quickly unbolted the cluster boxes and loaded them. His next stop, he said, was to collect the cluster boxes from the Health Department location.
“The post office is looking for ways to save money,” he said. “Look at me, I’m here doing this job by myself. But it’s all about customer service ,so the carriers here are going back to delivering the mail the way they always did. That’s what I was told.”
In a Friday email, Rice said “The boxes will be removed today and door to door delivery will resume.”
That doesn’t mean the issue has gone away, though. Rice said Schmidt, the Postal Service Growth Management Coordinator and Williams have opened negotiations to resolve placement of the boxes.
“We apologize for any inconvenience customers experienced,” Rice said. “We are working with the Town Administrator to resolve this matter.”