Return to sender

Living on an offshore island in Maine often conjures up images of foggy, fir-scented days and a quiet broken only by the occasional call of a seagull or the drone of the engine of a lobster boat heading out of the harbor each morning. The reality is that many residents in such communities endure long periods of isolation. Every opportunity to connect with the outside world is usually welcome.

One of the primary links to the wider world is the regular delivery of mail and packages. For residents of Swans Island and Frenchboro, however, an overly restrictive interpretation of U.S. Postal Service rules in Southwest Harbor threatens to cut off a major source of connection.

Apparently, a postal official has ruled that the sole contractor who helps get the mail to those islands violates the rules by carrying goods or packages from other delivery services when riding on the Swans Island ferry. While islands that have only passenger ferry service are exempt, because Swans has a ferry that carries vehicles, it is considered the same as a community with road access.

Earlier this spring, the sole provider who has been carrying vital goods and packages to those islands for 30 years was offered a new contract specifically banning him from taking anything other than U.S. mail on delivery runs. With the full support of the people of those islands, he rightfully refused.

Islanders know they are lucky to have a method to transport not only the mail, but life-sustaining medicines, groceries, repair parts and other necessities. The postal service insistence that only the mail be carried means that all the other items, including packages from FedEx, United Parcel Service and other private shippers and local businesses, must be left behind, too. Because of the costs involved, it is unlikely those items will ever get there in a timely fashion.

The irony is that the U.S. Postal Service regularly teams up with FedEx and UPS in areas where its carriers provide final destination delivery. Postal service vehicles carry items of outside origination every day.

Nationally, postal officials like to brag about how that saves energy and resources. Perhaps the officials making the determination in the Swans Island and Frenchboro case haven’t gotten that message.

As members of Maine’s congressional delegation get involved, hopefully more thoughtful judgment will hold forth.

The woeful lack of common sense demonstrated by postal officials involved in this decision is a perfect example of what happens within inflexible and outmoded institutions. Enforcing silly rules to the letter may impress the boss and enhance career advancement opportunities. But in the meantime, such decisions irreparably damage traditional patterns of life and shirk the postal service’s fundamental duty to fulfill a mission that at its core is simple: public service.

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