By Aimee Breaux – September 1, 2017
Some mail service resumed in ZIP codes that begin with 778 Thursday, but U.S. Rep. Bill Flores of Bryan says that the inconvenience to businesses and residents should have been rerouted in the first place.
Aside from calls from constituents looking for ways to help the Harvey-ravaged coast, Flores said his office has received many calls from Brazos Valley residents upset that post offices closed.
Flores says he doesn’t blame these constituents. The postal service, he says, should have better prepared for Hurricane Harvey and kept its promise to use Bryan as a backup processing center when it moved the service to Houston a few years ago.
USPS began sending all mail to a processing plant in north Houston in 2011 and shut down the Bryan processing center in 2012, citing potential savings of $4 million each year by outsourcing processing.
Flores said, at the time, his office was concerned about the hit Brazos Valley residents and businesses would take if something happened to the Houston plant.
Flores said the USPS assured his office that mail would be routed to Bryan for processing in the event that the Houston processing center was shut down.
“It’s almost like the Postal Service had no backup plan in the event that it lost one of the large regional processing centers,” Flores said. “There are all kinds of things that could have been done. They could have moved it to Bryan. They could have distributed that mail out to other processing centers. Instead, what happened is local postal services hung signs saying, ‘We’re closed.'”
Local Bryan management said that post offices are now sending and receiving mail from the north Houston processing center, but referred The Eagle to USPS communications representative Twana Barber.
Barber said she was unable to tell if Bryan was intended to be a backup processing center in the event of a disaster or if the Bryan post office has the capacity to serve as a processing center.
She adds that the post office did have an emergency plan in place for rerouting mail during Harvey, and that post offices — like those in the 778 zip code areas — were shut down at the sign of hazardous weather conditions.
“If [an area] is affected, we have to be proactive and make sure the employees and the customers are safe — we don’t want anyone to be unsafe. We care about their well being,” she said. “And in implementing that, Houston was so massive in terms of what was hit that we had to figure out what was the best way and the safest way to effectively and quickly process the customers’ mail.”
Barber said alternative processing centers were immediately set up after Hurricane Harvey. She said roadway conditions were among the considerations involved in designating processing centers.
“I don’t think the people there knew this place was going to be hit so hard,” she said. “So I can’t say why this one wasn’t used over the other, but I’m sure when they made the decision all of those factors were taken into consideration.”
Flores said the USPS has not given his office a clear answer on why mail had to shut down in the area. He said mail service is critical for many the region, from residents who depend on Social Security checks to businesses that need to send paychecks to employees.
“We’ve raised the issue with the post office, we couldn’t get anyone locally to call us — none of the postmasters would call us back,” Flores said. “So we raised it with the postal service in DC, they have got us some bureaucratic, but largely ineffective, responses to our questions.”