OTISFIELD, Maine – The folks of Otisfield are so fond of their lone public mailbox that they blocked it with a snowplow and a backhoe to prevent the Postal Service from taking it away in the gloom of night. Town officials also threatened to chain themselves to the blue box if necessary.
The box is still there, for now at least. But it's probably a losing battle.
The familiar blue street-corner mailbox is going the way of the pay phone. More than 188,000 boxes nationwide have been removed this decade as e-mail, online bill-paying and Internet catalogs cause a drop-off in the volume of mail handled by the Postal Service.
This town of 1,700 people 35 miles from Portland doesn't have a post office. It doesn't even have its own ZIP code. And it isn't about to give up its mailbox without a fight.
"It's the town of Otisfield's post office," said Marianne Izzo-Morin, the town's administrative assistant. "We can't buy stamps there, but we can put mail in there and know it'll be delivered."
On June 30, a notice reading "This Box Will be Removed From Service in 10 Days" was taped to the box outside Town Hall. Postal officials said the box gets only six pieces of mail a day on average, far below the 25-letter threshold that makes a mailbox worth the money.
But when a postal worker showed up to remove the box this week, Izzo-Morin and the town clerk blocked his way and prevented him from taking it away. Izzo-Morin was also prepared to padlock herself to the box. And the town's road commissioner blocked the box with heavy-duty machinery so it couldn't be removed while folks were asleep.
Izzo-Morin has also called state legislators and contacted Maine's U.S. senators (alas, via e-mail). And a "Save Our US Mailbox" sign was put up outside Town Hall.
The Postal Service decided to leave the box for now, pending further review.
The Postal Service has been removing the boxes nationally at the rate of more than 60 per day this decade. As of Wednesday, 176,936 remained, said spokeswoman Sue Brennan. The agency projects it will handle fewer than 180 billion pieces of mail this year, down from 213 billion pieces two years ago as people increasingly turn to other means of communication and other shipping services.
The Postal Service said putting the boxes out to pasture saves money because it doesn't have to paint or otherwise maintain them or pay somebody to pick up the mail in them.
"Removal of underused blue collection boxes has become fairly routine, unfortunately, because it makes good sense," said Tom Rizzo, a postal spokesman in Maine.
Postal officials say people can send their mail from their homes and businesses, or use other boxes. But some people don't like to leave letters in their mailbox for pickup because they don't trust the mail will get where it needs to go
Critics from Maine to California have decried the removal of the boxes. The people of Otisfield, though, have taken the protests to a whole new level.
"I haven't heard anything as spirited as people willing to chain themselves to a box," Brennan said.
Izzo-Morin said she doesn't think the Postal Service will save money by removing Otisfield's mailbox. It is just two feet away from the town government's mailbox, and every morning around 10, a mail carrier drives up, puts mail in the town mailbox and then unlocks the blue box and takes mail away.
"We've timed her and it takes less than a minute," Izzo-Morin said.
Judy Hall, who uses the Otisfield mailbox a couple of times a week, said she and other residents don't feel safe putting their mail into home mailboxes along the town's winding country roads, where they often fall victim to snowplows or baseball bat-wielding vandals. If the Otisfield box is removed, she will have to drive four or five miles to the nearest one.
"One mailbox," Hall said as she deposited a couple of bills into the box this week. "It's not a big deal, you would think."