The Lihue Post Office is strategically situated in the heart of town to serve the community around it. Almost 80 years after the facility was dedicated, thousands of people use it each day, and it continues to play a central role in the life of Lihue. Our post office is where it should be.
So what’s the problem?
On Jan. 23, a notice posted by the U.S. Postal Service announced that it considers the Lihue site an “excess” location “no longer necessary for postal operations,” and that its plans for “disposal action” are to sell the property at fair market value.
A second notice, posted near the first one four days later, walked back the original’s decision-already-made stance. It claimed that the USPS is “considering relocating” the facility and announced a public meeting to be held on Feb. 23.
A third notice, this time in letter form, was slipped into Lihue PO boxes on Feb. 1. Signed by Postmaster Junlin Rivera, it asserted that USPS officials would “solicit comments” at the public meeting about the proposal to move Lihue operations to its Kapule Highway annex.
The Garden Island estimated that 150 people attended the meeting. Far from soliciting comments, however, postal officials offered no sign-in sheets, took no notes, and collected no statements. Late in the meeting USPS real estate specialist Dean Cameron announced, to the dismay of the audience, that comments should instead be made in writing and mailed to him.
What are the issues that the postal service has identified?
Parking and congestion
The postmaster’s letter cites “challenging parking and access issues” as its main reason for a move. Few of us would disagree about the occasional difficulty of finding a space near the building.
But solutions to the problem are in the works. The U.S. Department of Transportation is investing $13.8 million of our tax dollars to increase traffic flow and alleviate parking — 80-90 new spaces — in the Rice Street area as an aid to town core revitalization.
Our County Council wisely accepted that federal grant and chipped in another $2 million for the project.
Moreover, county officials have expressed a willingness to work with USPS officials to find additional spaces dedicated to short-term PO parking.
USPS officials assert that the annex would be conveniently “accessible via a traffic-light-controlled intersection that will offer a safe and simple way to enter the parking lot.” But only designing for car-driven access is old-style thinking. Current planners view mobility more broadly to include pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs, skateboards and more; both state and federal departments of transportation are now aligned with those concepts.
Such accessibility is far greater at the Rice Street location than at the annex.
Cameron acknowledged at the public meeting that the USPS does not consider community planning in its decisionmaking.
He also admitted that the agency has done no transportation studies to determine the shifting traffic impacts of facility relocation, so officials may be unaware that Kapule Highway becomes backed up between Ahukini and Rice streets beyond the signal at the PO annex during certain times of the day.
Nor have they considered how much worse the Kapule Highway congestion will get if all post office traffic is re-routed to the annex.
Public sentiment at the meeting was, by a large majority, in favor of retaining the Rice Street location. Even most who like the idea of retail services at the annex wanted it opened in addition to the Rice Street location.
But Cameron reported that the USPS has declared a moratorium on opening new or closing existing facilities, which is why the Lihue PO would be “relocated,” not closed.
Yet neighboring Hanamaulu and Puhi enjoyed their own post offices until recent years. With Lihue growing in both directions, there is an argument to be made for reclaiming those locations once the moratorium ends.
Community members voiced several ideas to make the Rice Street operations more efficient, including more parking, longer operating hours, an additional service window opened, and increased off-site cluster post boxes, such as within the Civic Center across the street.
A possibility at the annex of installing an automated mailing facility, already used in certain locations around the country, should also be considered.
Who to write
If you have comments, send them to: Dean Cameron, USPS, 1300 Evans Ave., Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94188. (If you wrote to the first notice’s contact, Jody Lowe in North Carolina, you should to resend to Dean Cameron.) The window for public comment closes Saturday.
Pat L. Griffin is president of the Lihue Business Association.