Kalaupapa Residents Defend Post Office

By Maggie Cassidy
The Molokai Dispatch

More than half of Kalaupapa’s 100 residents turned out in support of their tiny post office last week, when United States Postal Service (USPS) representatives visited the settlement to discuss its potential closure.

The post office is one of four in the state and nearly 4,000 nationwide targeted for review as the USPS faces an unprecedented financial crisis. USPS is currently gathering community feedback and financial information for all post offices under consideration.

Jodi Nascimneto, manager of post office operations in USPS’s Honolulu district, said her office is considering three options for Kalaupapa: continue running the post office, hire an outside contractor to take it over, or close it altogether.

With no banks or cell phone service in the settlement, many attendees said closing the Kalaupapa Post Office would further isolate residents – likening it to the forced isolation of Kalaupapa’s Hansen’s disease patient-residents until the late 1960s. Unreliable dial-up is the only form of Internet available – and many residents do not even have that, said Department of Health Administrator Mark Miller.

To close the post office would be to “have denied … inalienable rights to these people who are just as American as anybody else,” Miller said.

Patient-resident Gloria Marks said theirs is a “very unique post office … in a very unique setting.”

“I think you folks should consider that,” she said. “It’s very important to us.”

“Humbly I would just beg you not to close the post office because all of us need it down here,” added another resident.

State Reps. John Mizuno and Faye Hanohano, who together visited Kalaupapa Sept. 13, have also expressed support for the post office, signing a joint letter to the USPS Honolulu office asking to keep the Kalaupapa Post Office open.

Several attendees of last week’s meeting were baffled by a computer-generated message sent to all post office boxes within the settlement, suggesting that if the Kalaupapa Post Office closed, settlement residents could get their mail at one of four post offices topside Molokai.

That would allow them two unpleasant options: They could hike nearly four miles up the grueling Kalaupapa Trail – more than 20 switchbacks winding up a steep elevation of nearly 2000 feet – before traveling several more miles to the post office in Kualapu`u or Kaunakakai; or spend $500 on a roundtrip plane ticket between the settlement and topside Molokai, plus $60 on a rental car, Miller estimated.

Nascimento apologized for the letter, which she said her district office could not edit after it was automatically generated. After the meeting, she said the visit – which also included two other USPS representatives – answered questions which she “[didn’t] think a survey would have answered.”

“There was added value for us to be here,” she said, adding she was “touched” by the strong turnout.

The public now has until the end of the month to mail comments to USPS. Letters, which must be postmarked by Sept. 30, may be mailed to CSDC Manager, US Postal Service, 3600 Aolele St., Honolulu, HI 96820.

Once a local review team develops a proposal for action, it must be posted for 60 days for additional comments before being sent to Nascimento for approval, who may send it to the USPS Vice President of Delivery and Post Office Operations for the final decision. That determination will be posted for 30 days, at which time customers may appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission.