HALMA, Minn. — Residents here showed up Tuesday looking for answers and hope that their beloved main-street post office would remain open.
They found little of either.
One hour before the U.S. flag went down in front of the Halma post office, presumably for the last time, regional managers for the U.S. Postal Service convened a meeting to explain why mailing operations in this northwestern Minnesota town of 80 people had to be suspended.“I know it’s a difficult change and it’s one I had hoped not to make,” said Gloria Hauge, manager of postal operations for the Dakotas region, which includes most small towns in northwestern Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota.
She told about 20 residents who packed into a shoebox of a room inside the Halma post office that, because no qualified replacement could be found for the town’s retiring and only postal worker, local mail operations would be transferred to nearby Karlstad, Minn.
Halma is about 90 miles northeast of Grand Forks in southeastern Kittson County. The post office most recently was open only two hours a day, six days a week.
Lela Spilde, who had served as officer-in-charge of the Halma station since 1994 and had worked there for 22 years, tendered her resignation April 30. Two days later, all of the town’s post office box holders received a letter notifying them that emergency suspension proceedings would be started for the Halma post office.
They were told, from now on, their mail service would be handled by a rural carrier originating from Karlstad, Minn.
Halma Mayor Shane Olson said, with only two days between Spilde’s resignation and receipt of the “emergency suspension” letter, it appears postal officials made little effort to find a replacement and that they’re intent on closing the Halma facility.
The letter also was misprinted and addressed to Halma, N.D., further fueling anger in the town.
“This needs to be stopped dead in its tracks,” Olson said. “The locals do not want it closed.”
Hauge said, with a dwindling population in Halma and a decreasing workload at the post office, it’s not feasible to keep it open. She said a lengthy legal process to close the facility would be the next step.
Residents in Pisek, N.D., northwest of Grand Forks, soon will see the same process started for their post office. A public meeting is set for May 23 in Pisek.
If there was one glimmer of hope from the Halma meeting, it was a suggestion that residence might be able to secure a “contract post office,” which could be set up and run out of an existing local business in town.
“It’s not something that can happen today,” Hauge said, “but it would be a way to provide an alternative service to the community.”
Olson said he doesn’t understand the difficulty in finding replacement workers for Halma’s post office. He knows of three people in the area who would like to run it.
But Hauge said Postal Service rules say that the post must be filled by a postmaster or a designated officer-in-charge with proper qualifications and training on mail handling and security. It takes a minimum of six weeks of training to get a postal employee qualified, she said.
“What you think is qualified and what the Postal Service says is qualified are two different things,” she said.
Former Halma mayor and longtime postmaster Lee Folland scoffed at the claim, saying, “When I was postmaster, I got six hours of training. Now, you want six weeks?”
Main-street business leaders in Halma say they feed off the traffic that the post office draws to town and they would feel the pinch after it’s closed.
Dennis Fish, who owns a construction business in town, visits the post office every morning to handle time-sensitive documents that drive the success of his operation.
He said closing the local post office would force him to rely on the limited services of rural carriers or to drive to Karlstad, wasting valuable time.
“This puts me at a disadvantage with my competitors in the area and the region,” Fish said.
Lyle Puppe, a retired postmaster from St. Paul and an advocate for small-town post offices, told Halma residents that he has never seen a suspended post office reopen.
“What you see here is what you’re going to get,” he said.
Puppe said the only hope for Halma residents is to get state congressional leaders on board to help them save their post office. Representatives from the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., were at the Halma meeting.