Parachute joins several Colorado towns considering action against US Postal Service |

Parachute joins several Colorado towns considering action against US Postal Service

Ray K. Erku
Post Independent
Parachute shop owner Diana Lawrence opens a box she just received in the mail on Monday, March 13, 2023.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Diana Lawrence was delivered some bad news explaining why her mail wasn’t at the post office. 

“‘We don’t hold boxes unless we have a PO box on there,’” Lawrence said, relaying what she was told by a postal worker. The PO box number has to be on the package for the local post office to hold it. “And, yeah, I lit ’em up.”

Lawrence owns a mercantile store on First Street in Parachute, an area in which city leaders look to revamp commercially. She was waiting on a personalized sign she ordered for a customer. The sign did make it to the United States Post Office in Parachute from Michigan. But because it didn’t have a PO box noted on its package, the post office sent it back to its original departure.

According to town officials, Mayor Tom Rugaard, former Mayor Roy McClung and Lawrence, about 30-40% of Parachute residents and business owners don’t get mail delivered physically to their front door. The remaining 60-70% of Parachute residents live close enough to the post office to have their mail delivered physically, locals suspect.

For the residents who don’t, they are forced to get all their mail in a small PO box. To make matters worse, even if a person just has their physical address labeled on the package — and not the PO box number — the local post office doesn’t babysit it until you pick it up. This is why Lawrence’s customized sign for a customer made a round trip back to the Midwest.

Diana Lawrence unloads product onto the shelves at her mercantile shop in Parachute on Monday, March 13, 2023.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

“Most of my wholesalers won’t ship to a PO box,” Lawrence said. She was also told at the post office that if she had a complaint, to take it up with the postmaster. “I said, ‘Really?’ You think that’s gonna do me some good? Is that your answer?”

This is the exact impetus behind Parachute recently announcing it’s joining other Colorado communities in exploring possible legal action against USPS. The other communities include Avon, Buena Vista, Silverthorne, Crested Butte, Snowmass Village and Steamboat Springs.

In Silverthorne, for example, many people are just now receiving mail postmarked in December, a news release authored by this collective of towns states.

“Crested Butte residents regularly spend 1-3 hours in a line that winds around the block, sometimes in sub-freezing temperatures, to pick up and send packages, send registered or Express mail or simply buy stamps,” the release states. “And in Steamboat Springs, more than 13,000 boxes and packages were dropped off in one day late last year, overwhelming the already understaffed local post office that serves a community of approximately 13,000 residents.”

For Parachute, in particular, the mail service is causing severe issues.

“It’s crazy, they tell you you’re an undeliverable address, when I can walk less than five minutes to their front door,” Rugaard said of the postal service. “My mom’s estate check got returned. I have to go back to Iowa to get it myself. It’s been returned twice because it only had my address.”

One big issue the city faces is that E-commerce companies like Amazon have what’s called a last-mile delivery contract with USPS. This means instead of Amazon bringing your package directly to your front door, it’s dropping off the package at the post office and letting the postal service take care of the final delivery. And if your PO box isn’t big enough or only your physical address is on the package, it gets returned to the sender.

This affects how the city sends out monthly bills and notifications, how people get their medicine and how people like Lawrence run their businesses.

“Something needs to be done, and hopefully that’s something the lawsuit will do,” Rugaard said. “That’s all I’m looking for, that our people are getting the mail they deserve to get.”

McClung said the post office has been a train wreck for a while, and that it’s really had some negative impacts on these smaller communities.

“Now that we’re doing all of this online ordering, and Colorado passed a law where the community that orders the product gets the sales tax, Parachute’s missing out on a bunch,” he said. “Because people get so frustrated trying to get packages delivered into Parachute, they have them delivered somewhere else.”

A box labeled “USPS priority mail” sits inside Diana Lawrence’s shop in Parachute on Monday, March 13, 2023.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

McClung said mail delivery service issues have really popped up in Parachute over the past 5-6 years due an increase in things like commerce and online ordering. McClung and, more recently, Rugaard, have been having round-table discussions with USPS representatives and U.S. Sens. John Hickenloooper and Michael Bennet to address Parachute’s delivery dilemma. McClung said, however, USPS was addressing “more of the symptoms” and “not the cause.”

“There isn’t any reason that we should be looked at as second-class citizens because we’re in a small town,” he said. “These folks deserve the exact same things that people in bigger communities have.”

The Citizen Telegram reached out to Postal Service Communication Specialist James Boxrud for this story but he did not comment.

According to Parachute Town Administrator Travis Elliot, if a lawsuit is filed against the USPS, it’ll likely cost about $30,000 for this new coalition of Colorado communities to retain representation. Parachute itself will post up $5,000 for legal costs.

Elliot said the exploration of possible legal options is to help understand why smaller communities seem to be neglected and not receiving the same level of service as across the nation. Action also could be taken to explore solutions, like potentially readjusting USPS’ last-mile delivery contract or hiring more personnel to cover routes in Parachute.

“They’re working as hard as they can, and they are working under stressful circumstances,” Elliot said of Parachute’s local postal workers. “We don’t think they’re the problem. It’s systemic.”

Lawyers at Denver-based law firm Kaplan Kirsh Rockwell LLP (KKR) and Karp Neu Hanlon in Glenwood Springs, which provides regular legal services to many of the communities, are currently researching two avenues for a potential lawsuit — violations of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, and the crippling Last Mile Delivery contracts that the USPS has with major internet retailers.

“We’re still exploring our legal options,” Hanlon said in the release. “Ideally, the Postal Service or the Biden Administration will take action immediately and provide the resources and direction needed to solve these problems, but if they don’t my clients may force the issue in the courts.”

For Lawrence, she’s worried that, if mail issues continue, it could affect the future commercial world of Parachute.

“We’re really trying to grow First Street,” she said. “But here again, what if we bring a bunch of new businesses in and their frustration is going to be with this post office, as well?

“I think it’s an amenity that’s far overdue.”

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