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Postal Service rethinks plans

Facility’s permanent closure could cost Hub more than 1,300 jobs

A view of the US Postal Service’s Boston processing facility (the structure to the left) from across Fort Point Channel. A view of the US Postal Service’s Boston processing facility (the structure to the left) from across Fort Point Channel. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / September 16, 2011

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The financially strained US Postal Service said yesterday that it may permanently close its Boston processing facility and abandon plans to replace it with a new plant nearby, potentially resulting in the loss of more than 1,300 jobs in the city.

The announcement, part of a nationwide plan to save $3 billion a year by closing more than half the Postal Service’s processing plants, carries broad implications for a large section of the city from South Station to the Seaport District.

While the Postal Service had long planned to demolish its current facility along Fort Point Channel to allow for the expansion of train service at South Station, yesterday’s news means it may not replace it with a new building on a 25-acre government-owned parcel further down Summer Street in South Boston. Instead, the Postal Service said it is considering consolidating the Boston operations with existing facilities in Waltham and North Reading.

Abandoning the new facility in an area of the city that is fast being remade from its old industrial past would leave the property in need of a new redevelopment plan and lead to heavy job losses in a difficult economy. Mayor Thomas M. Menino called on the Postal Service last night to put in place training programs to help find new work for any displaced employees.

“The mayor’s biggest concern is for those employees, especially the longtime employees who have spent their lives working for the Postal Service,’’ said Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce.

A spokesman for the Postal Service said the agency will spend the next three months reviewing whether it should move forward with the facility in Boston or opt for consolidating it with others outside the city.

“We’re processing fewer pieces of mail, so we may want to maximize the capacity we have in other locations.’’ said the spokesman, Dennis Tarmey. He added that the Postal Service will host public meetings this winter to discuss any consolidations recommended during its review.

Since 2006, the amount of mail processed by the Postal Service has dropped to 170 billion from 213 billion, or about 20 percent, due to pervasive use of e-mail and other digital forms of communication, as well as increasing competition from private shipping services.

The agency said yesterday it will review closing about 250 mail processing facilities across the country, and will cut its workforce by as many as 35,000 employees. In addition to the Boston facility, officials are studying whether to shut or consolidate six other Massachusetts plants, including ones in Lowell, Shrewsbury, and Wareham.

Postal Service officials said the cuts will slow the delivery of first-class mail, causing average shipping time to take two to three days instead of one.

“We are forced to face a new reality today,’’ Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a statement. “First-Class Mail supports the organization and drives network requirements. With the dramatic decline in mail volume and the resulting excess capacity, maintaining a vast national infrastructure is no longer realistic.’’

State transportation officials said the Postal Service’s announcement will have little impact on plans to relieve congestion on the commuter rail system at South Station by using the current postal annex property to add railroad tracks, waiting areas, and platforms.

On Tuesday, the federal government awarded Massachusetts a $32.5 million grant to begin planning the rail expansion and study opportunities for construction of stores, offices, and other development over the expanded station.

The state has said expansion is needed to reduce wait times and overcrowding, restore service to New Bedford and Fall River, and run additional trains to Worcester.

It would add seven to 11 new platform berths and would improve the system that allows trains from different tracks to come and go in sequence, without colliding. The work would also be necessary for Amtrak and the federal government to pursue their vision of running faster trains and more frequent service between Boston and Washington.

“The USPS announcement today has no immediate impact on this planning process,’’ said Cyndi Roy, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “We will continue moving forward as planned and will adapt to whatever decision is made by the Postal Service about the fate of the facility located near South Station.’’

The Postal Service previously indicated it planned to shutter the facility and replace it with a plant to be built about a mile away in South Boston, on property owned by the Department of Defense and the Massachusetts Port Authority.

Yesterday’s announcement was the Postal Service’s first notice that it may abandon that plan. Tarmey said the agency expects to make a final decision about its consolidation plans by the end of February.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.