SWANS ISLAND — Louis “L.J.” Hopkins has gotten his old job back and soon will be delivering mail to Swans Island and Frenchboro.
In March, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) contract he had held for 27 years was not renewed because of a previously unenforced rule against transporting any items for delivery in the same vehicle with the mail.
Hopkins, like his mother before him, supplemented his USPS income by delivering FedEx and UPS packages, groceries, prescriptions, household supplies and other items to homes and businesses on Swans Island. He used his own van and the Maine State Ferry from Bass Harbor.
Once on Swans Island, he would give any mail and other items destined for Frenchboro to Swans Island resident Brian Krafjack, who would take them in his boat to the neighboring island. Hopkins and Krafjack have continued to deliver non-mail cargo to the two islands since the postal contract expired six months ago.
Residents of both islands appealed unsuccessfully to the USPS to relax the rules so that Hopkins could continue to carry the mail and other items. Then, as the Islander reported last month, Keith Harriton, an attorney in Armonk, N.Y., who has a summer home on Swans Island, took up the cause.
“I told Brian [Krafjack] I didn’t like bullies, especially governmental ones, and offered to take a lawyer’s look,” Harriton said.
Early last month, after filing a protest of the USPS’s position with the Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., Harriton and an attorney from another law firm met with USPS officials to try to resolve the dispute. Harriton said the USPS agreed “to allow non-postal cargo to be transported concurrently with mail” and to extend the deadline for submitting bids for the outer-island mail delivery service to Sept. 16.
Last week, Hopkins was awarded a four-year mail delivery contract, which goes into effect Oct. 17. He agreed to the USPS’s request that the mail be carried in a “separate, secure container.”
Hopkins said Monday that going without the mail contract since March has been a hardship.
“It’s cost me a lot of money,” he said. “It’s gone and ain’t coming back.”
Asked how long he could have continued delivering goods without the mail contract, Hopkins said, “I would have tried to go all winter because the people of the island would have spoiled me. They said they would be there for me somehow to make it work.”
Krafjack, who owns The Island Market & Supply, the general store on Swans Island, said Monday that he had just started subcontracting with Hopkins to deliver the mail to Frenchboro last February, the month before Hopkins lost his contract.
“We bought a boat specifically to run the mail to Frenchboro for L.J.,” Krafjack said. “A fisherman who had been doing it for 26 years decided he was going to retire, and I apprenticed with him all winter.”
He has continued to take freight to Frenchboro while someone else has had a short-term contract to carry the mail.
“I think every trip was a money loser, but we kept the faith and held onto the boat, and the people on Frenchboro were very supportive,” Krafjack said.
He said he doesn’t know what he and others on the islands would have done if Hopkins had decided to accept a USPS contract that prohibited him from carrying anything else.
“The postal contract was pretty much his bread and butter. But he chose the high road and continued to bring prescriptions and packages as well as everything we have in this store that we own,” Krafjack said.
Harriton, Hopkins’ attorney, said Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin helped achieve the favorable outcome by signing “a compelling letter … requesting the Postal Service to allow a combined mail and freight delivery service to both Swans and Frenchboro.”
On Monday, the three members of Congress jointly announced the awarding of the new mail delivery contract.