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Post office paradox

Expanded service brings end to 'best-kept secret': free P.O. boxes

Denise Turner sorts mail Thursday while working her mail delivery route on Kelhi Court in the Fish Creek Falls Road area. Turner's route consists of 40 stops at cluster boxes servicing 470 customers. Cluster boxes will become more prevalent in Steamboat in the next couple of years - and free post office boxes are going the way of the dinosaur.
Tyler Arroyo

— One of the “best-kept secrets” in town has come to an end.

For at least the past two years, some Steamboat Springs residents have received free mail service. But Frank Murphy, postmaster at the Steamboat Springs Post Office on Lincoln Avenue, said Thursday that because local postal service now offers home delivery to the entire city as well as outlying areas, a federal loophole that allowed some residents to receive free post office boxes no longer applies in Steamboat.

Previously, residents who could not be serviced with home delivery could apply at the post office for a free box through a federal post office regulation used in rural areas, including several Colorado mountain towns. Longtime Steamboat resident Van Fletcher said he noticed the regulation “two or three years ago,” and after asking about it at the Steamboat Springs Post Office, was told he could apply for a free postal box.



“That was the world’s best-keep secret – you only knew about it by word-of-mouth,” Fletcher said this week.

But because Steamboat’s postal service is now able to “deliver everywhere,” Murphy said, Fletcher and other residents will have to cough up at least $26 a year for a post office box.



But the problem, raised by Fletcher and acknowledged by Murphy, is that cluster boxes are not available everywhere in Steamboat – especially in parts of Old Town. So although postal service workers are “able” to deliver everywhere, delivery is not possible in some areas until a cluster box is installed.

“I just think it’s kind of ridiculous and illogical,” Fletcher said. “In (Murphy’s) mind, he is offering home delivery. In my mind, I have no opportunity but to keep the post office box.”

A cluster box is one unit containing multiple post office boxes. Murphy said there are at least 400 cluster boxes in Steamboat, often at townhome or condominium complexes.

Murphy said he is working with Steamboat residents and Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord to determine locations for new cluster boxes, but the process is not simple.

“Customers don’t want (cluster) boxes in their front yard,” Murphy said. He added that the post office can’t put cluster boxes “on every corner” because of concerns like safety and snowplowing.

Narrow streets and a lack of curbs in Old Town further complicate the issue, Murphy said.

Fletcher has lived in Steamboat for 40 years. His address is on Park Avenue in north Old Town. There is a cluster unit containing 12 boxes across the street from his house, Fletcher said, but all the boxes are in use.

Murphy said residents who want a cluster box near their home can submit their address at the post office, possibly after consulting with neighbors to submit a neighborhood request.

“Those would be the ones we could work on first,” Murphy said.

Fletcher said he has not contacted his neighbors about the issue, and he is not sure if he will.

“I don’t know if citizens should have to go out and survey their community,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s my responsibility.”

Murphy said the process of installing new cluster boxes could take two to three years.

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com


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