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‘Completely ridiculous’ mandate hinders mail delivery to Maine island

Posted April 14, 2016, at 1:22 p.m.

FRENCHBORO, Maine — After running the mail route for decades, Louis “LJ” Hopkins is no longer delivering mail to Frenchboro’s approximately 70 residents.

As of April 1, mail service to the island dropped from six days per week to only two days per week.

Hopkins opted not to sign a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to continue the route after conflicts with the postal service supervisor for the past 18 months, according to his lawyer, Robert Van Horn of Ellsworth.

The attorney said his client was told by Mary Saucier, the postmaster of the Southwest Harbor Post Office and Hopkins’ contracting supervisor, that he could no longer carry passengers or other items, such as groceries, medical prescriptions or packages from Federal Express and UPS, when he is carrying the mail.

Hopkins had been contracted for this mail delivery route since the 1990s and other family members before him dating back to before 1960, according to Van Horn. Carrying other cargo was never a problem before, he said.

It’s “completely ridiculous” for the Postal Service to suddenly mandate that Hopkins cannot carry other cargo, Van Horn said.

“I think Mr. Hopkins is being treated differently,” the attorney said, adding that Saucier, who became postmaster a year and a half ago, is a “difficult personality” who has singled out Hopkins. The attorney described Saucier’s behavior as akin to harassment.

The attorney said his client was “evaluating his legal options going forward.”

Like other family members before him, Hopkins used his own van to transport the mail, using magnetic signs furnished by the Postal Service to identify the van as a mail vehicle. Hopkins would drive the van onto the ferry to Swan’s Island and deliver mail there, according to Van Horn. Brian Krafjack, who worked for Hopkins, then would take the Frenchboro mail in his own boat to from Swan’s Island to Frenchboro.

Neither Hopkins nor Krafjack would be interviewed, and both referred calls to Van Horn.

Saucier declined to comment and referred all questions to Stephen Doherty, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service’s northeast division.

Doherty said Hopkins had declined to renew his contract for the route as of March 31. Another contractor has taken over delivering mail six days per week to Swans Island, but Frenchboro is receiving mail only on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when a ferry goes out there from the mainland. The Postal Service still is looking for another contractor to handle mail service six days per week to Frenchboro, he said.

“The issue is with other things inside the van that interfere with mail somehow,” the Postal Service spokesman said.

When asked for specifics about what those items were and how they interfered with mail delivery, Doherty said he did not know and would check.

He later emailed an excerpt from a Postal Service handbook, which simply said the carrier is responsible for maintaining a vehicle of the required size and keeping it “free of extraneous matter.”

Frenchboro Selectwoman Kimberly Smith said the daily deliveries, including the mail that came through Hopkins and Krafjack, are vital to the island residents.

If these deliveries must be made separate from mail delivery, the time and expense of making them will increase to the point where they aren’t affordable, she said.

“Every other island does it,” she said, referring to other deliveries made with the U.S. mail. “It’s very disruptive to the Town of Frenchboro residents and the people coming to visit.”

Beal & Bunker runs a mail boat and ferry service from the mainland to the Cranberry Islands. It does not have the capacity to transport vehicles but allows passengers, bicycles and items for delivery, according to its website.

The Isle au Haut Boat Services offers year-round passenger, mail and freight services, according to its website.

Doherty said a ferry may carry passengers and freight along with the mail because the mail is separately containerized. In the Hopkins case, the postal service was contracting for the space inside Hopkins’ van.

“For the Ferry to Swans Island we understand that there are passengers and other cargo on the boat,” Doherty said. “For security of the mail we require exclusive use of the container — in this case a vehicle — that contains the mail.”

This is true whether talking about Hopkins’ van or Krafjack’s boat, he said.

Van Horn said the postal service’s actions have hurt the people it is supposed to serve.

“The people that are really suffering are the people out on Frenchboro who can’t get their mail,” he said.


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