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'I would like free delivery': Steamboat Springs residents, city leaders call for free P.O. boxes

Recent service disruptions cause flare up in decades-old mail delivery battle
Mailboxes in Steamboat Springs
Posted at 4:39 PM, Feb 15, 2023

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Life moves at a different pace in Steamboat Springs.

“We’re used to things on mountain time,” said resident Eli Campbell.

They’re just not used to time not moving at all.

“It started right around Christmastime,” Campbell said. “We just weren’t getting our mail regularly. And then two days became two weeks — two weeks turned into a month.”

Campbell and others say mail service in Steamboat Springs came to a screeching halt over the holidays.

“We know there are labor shortages in every industry up here,” he said. “I think we’re pretty laid-back people normally, but communication goes a long way.”

“It’s the U.S. Post Office’s obligation to provide service,” said Steamboat Springs City Councilwoman Gail Garey.

The Postal Service addressed the non-delivery issues by bringing in temporary help, but the disruption in service over the holidays prompted many old issues to float right back to the surface in Steamboat.

“We have a post office box because we have no other option,” said Melissa VanArsdale.

In much of Steamboat, mail is not delivered.

So for years, residents have had to go to the post office to pick up their mail from P.O. boxes they rent annually.

“Paying is my little beef right now,” VanArsdale said.

“For that size box — three inches — it’s almost $200 a year,” said Marie Winter. “That’s a lot of money.”

“For the big one, we pay $230 a year,” said Sue Raub, who has lived in Steamboat for 30 years. She estimates she’s paid $6,000 to $8,000 in her lifetime to rent a post office box. “There are cluster boxes in town, but they’re not for my street – they’re for another street. We had to rent the big one because my husband is an architect, so we’ve been paying a lot of money for a box rental for 30 years.”

“We lived in Hayden, which is 30 miles south of here, for 10 years and it was free,” said Val Gary. “And then we moved here and it was not free.”

Gary has lived in Steamboat for 48 years.

“I don’t want people just thinking that we’re cheap,” said Winter. “It’s the fact that they keep raising the price and raising the price, while pretty much 99% of this country gets somebody walking mail to their door. Stop raising it for something that everybody else gets for free.”

“It’s gone up 20% a year for the past few years,” Gary said.

There are some places in town that have mailboxes, and others that have cluster boxes. But it’s totally random who gets them and who doesn’t. Just ask Lori Mitchell about that.

“Depending on what neighborhood you live in here, you may or may not get mail delivery,” Mitchell said.

She fought for a cluster box on her corner for years.

“I went to the city. The city sent me to the post office, which sent me back to the city for approval,” Mitchell said. “Then the city said, 'Get all the utilities to sign off.' Then both said they wouldn’t pay for it. Then the city said we need a letter from the post office stating they would deliver.”

Months passed by and nothing, according to Mitchell.

“Then one day, I went in, I think she was in a good mood, and she said, ‘Yeah. Okay. I’ll give you a letter.’ It was very random,” Mitchell said. “Years ago, the city bought a bunch of cluster boxes, which I heard were just sitting in an open lot. So, I go over to this empty lot, there’s beehives growing all over them, there’s mud on them, they’re rusted out. I picked the nicest one, put it in the back of my car and drove it home. Hosed it out, had a retired construction person install it and paid for the cement myself.”

Mitchell says she finally got the locks installed, and then went back to the post office.

“So, I said, ‘Okay, I’ve got 12 boxes. Do you guys want to pick who gets them? Like how does this work?’ And she’s like, ‘No, you tell us,’” Mitchell said.

It was sheer will and determination, a 2 ½ year process, to bring a cluster box with 12 little slots to her street.

Down the street, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority says a newly completed affordable housing project was forced by the post office to install cluster boxes, but now they’re not even being used.

“So, it’s 72 families that have to pay for their mail when a cluster box is sitting right there and not in use,” said Catherine Carson, board member with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.

“They’ve been required to come down here to the post office and pay for a P.O. box,” Corrigan said. “That’s fundamentally unfair to the people in our community that can least afford it.”

And then there are the issues with the post office not having people’s physical addresses on file. VanArsdale experienced the pain of that while recently trying to refinance her home.

“The refi turned into a nightmare,” VanArsdale said. “The mortgage company didn’t want to send mail to a P.O. box. They wanted to send it to a physical address. Well, they can’t. Mail doesn’t get delivered to my physical address.”

Because of all this, the county and city council met with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office this week to try and force a change with mail delivery in Steamboat.

“We need to take action. It’s getting to a critical point,” Garey said.

“Can we be confident in our next election the ballots will be delivered and returned on-time?” Corrigan said. “Can those with prescription drug services be confident they will get their medications? If the Postal Service has resource and management issues, they need to fix them.”

Steamboat Springs City Council has also approved a plan to hire the same law firm Crested Butte is using to address similar issues there.

“City council did vote last Tuesday to join Crested Butte and a number of other rural municipalities to engage a law firm to, at least, do an analysis of what is the U.S. Post Office’s obligation,” Garey said.

Buena Vista successfully forced the Postal Service to reverse course there. USPS is no longer charging Buena Vista residents to rent their P.O. boxes.

“It should be the same here,” Raub said.

A sentiment shared by dozens, if not hundreds, of residents in Steamboat.

“I don’t know why we don’t get mail delivery and so many people in America do,” Mitchell said. “It’s a fundamental right.”

“We love the employees at this post office,” Winter said. “They are phenomenal — that should be said. But they need to find a way to incentivize more people to want to work for the post office.”

In the meantime, residents continue to be baffled, amazed really, at the USPS, which appears to be mailing it in in Steamboat.

“Do your job,” Garey said.

“I think the post office, for too long, has made excuses instead of coming up with solutions,” Corrigan said. “That has got to stop.”

“My message is – I would like free delivery,” Gary said.

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