BEND, Ore. - Drop mail off in Bend and it will soon be a straight shot to Portland -- even if you're sending it to another Bend address.
"If you have a small business and you rely on the post office to mail your packages, you're going to have to get your work done earlier in order to get it on the truck," American Postal Workers Union Bend local President Linda O'Donnell said Wednesday.
The U.S. Postal Service had first proposed closing Bend's mail processing center in a late 2011 announcement. When that and several other closures was postponed last spring, it appeared that the Bend facility was off the chopping block until at least February 2014.
But this week, postal officials told the union it and about 70 other facilities nationwide will close this year. Bend's work will be consolidated with Portland's distribution center.
O'Donnell said she wasn't sure when it would close , but that it might shut down before the end of summer.
As a sign of what's to come, Bend postal customers just learned they will have to get mail in to a post office mailbox by 3 p.m. rather than 6 p.m, if they want it postmarked that day and moving on to its destination. Later than that, and it will not leave or get a postmark until the following day.
Postal officials tell NewsChannel 21 that mail hould only be slowed by about a day from current delivery times.
But O'Donnell thinks otherwise.
"I'm thinking it could be two to three, to even four days," she said.
Customers at the Bend post office were not pleased with the news.
"It takes forever to get your mail in Bend anyway, so if it takes longer that's awful," Bend postal customer Colin Cone said.
It's a disappointment for O'Donnell -- she hoped a new federal bill introduced last month would save the Bend center.
"If we can get the Postal Service Protection Act passed, then there may have not been the reason to consolidate us," O'Donnell said.
But U.S. Postal Service spokesman Peter Hass said over the last five years, there's been about a 25 percent decline in mail, as people turn to e-mail or other alternatives.
And since that revenue is the only funding the postal service gets, he says consolidations are necessary.
In a letter Wednesday to the postal workers union's president, postal service official Patrick Devine said the decision to "advance the implementation" of the closures resulted from an "opportunity to accelerate the anticipated savings while still maintaining the interim SCF (Sectional Center Facility) standard."
The list of facilities to be closed includes two in Oregon -- Bend and Pendleton.
A study conducted in late 2011 found that closing the Bend processing center would save about $2 million a year. It also claimed that "collection box times will not be impacted with this consolidation."
It said more than 40 jobs would be lost in Bend but some would be added in Portland, for a net cut of 18 "craft positions" and one more manager overall.
A few in Bend said they agree with the cost-cutting move, which comes as postal workers fight efforts to drop Saturday mail delivery.
"We just can't keep running deficits in this country," one man said.
""They need to cut back somewhere, and if this is the way to do so, then it's something we'll need to deal with," another said.
Others say it's a no-win situation.
"The post office has been losing money for years, but yet we don't want to end up with less services," said customer Dennis Fox. "One has to give for the other. I'm not sure how that's going to work."
Bend's main post office on Fourth Street will stay open -- only the processing facility will be closing.
Postal officials encourage customers to check the new pick-up times. Notices can be found on postal boxes.
Starting April 9th, all mail going out-of-state will be processed in Portland first. The new collection times will take affect May 1.
Senator Merkley offered the following comments to NewsChannel 21 upon learning of the expedited closures:
"Senator Merkley continues to fight to make sure that Oregon mail processing centers stay open and workers don't have to face being relocated to another location or switching to another job entirely.
"He is surprised and upset at the abrupt change that the Postmaster General has made today in moving up the timeline for the Bend processing center and he will continue pressing to keep it open.
"The postal service is something that Oregonians in every community rely on and while there are reforms needed to keep the US Postal Service in business, those don't include closing processing centers that keep our mail moving fast and efficiently."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued a similar statement Thursday:
"It's troubling that the U.S. Postal Service would jump forward with closures without greater public input or coming to Congress first," Wyden said. "Hopefully this will spur Congress to work with the Postal Service on needed reforms that not only address the problems but also protect service in all communities. Vote-by-mail is at the foundation of Oregon's election process and it needs to be protected, especially in rural communities."