SETTLERS BAY -- The U.S. Postal Service has canceled the Knik post office contract and there's no immediate plans to reopen the facility that serves the booming Knik-Fairview community.
Displaced customers of the Knik post office that closed suddenly three weeks ago still don't know when or even if it will reopen. They have to drive to the Wasilla post office -- miles out of the way for many, more than 30 minutes for some -- to pick up their mail.
The U.S. Postal Service shuttered the facility operated under private contract on Sept. 18 after receiving what an investigator described as "an allegation regarding the possible delay of U.S. mail."
The Postal Service canceled the contract with operator Chuck Spinelli on Sept. 30, according to Spinelli and a statement from the Postal Service forwarded to Alaska Dispatch News by a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Young.
This week, the agency and its Office of Inspector General declined to answer questions as to the status of the post office, a potential reopening date or whether the public would be notified of any findings of the investigation.
"Because of the ongoing status of the investigation no additional information can be released at this time," John Masters, assistant special agent in charge for the western area, told Alaska Dispatch News in an email Friday.
Spinelli, the owner of what's regarded as Alaska's largest homebuilding company, said the nearly 1,700 post-office boxes in the small facility were removed Thursday. He's trying to find somebody else to take on the operation.
"If you know anybody who's looking to run a private post office, I've got some space to lease," he said.
Young spokesman Matt Shuckerow forwarded a statement from the Postal Service on Friday afternoon.
"The US Postal Service is actively pursuing a new contract with potential suppliers. Per the request from Mr. Spinelli, we are looking in to the process for removing the 1698 Post Office boxes and other postal owned equipment from his facility," the statement from the Postal Service's Alaska District spokeswoman Dawn Peppinger said.
Postal Service government relations official Mary Ann Simpson offered Young's office information about customers who asked about refunds for their Knik post-office boxes, or transferring those funds to another location: the refund would be the remaining quarterly amount and can't be transferred.
"The PO Box service is going to be restored to the community," Simpson wrote. "We are working on a new Knik CPU contract."
Residents who want mail delivery should contact the Wasilla Carrier Annex for installing a mailbox for regular mail service via an independent contractor; it's recommended they bring proof of physical location.
The Knik contract post office opened in 2001, part of a small community center at the entrance to Settlers Bay, Spinelli's housing development built around a golf course and anchored by Settlers Bay Lodge.
Spinelli said the post office helps draw homebuyers, but also benefits the thriving Knik-Fairview community that holds nearly 15,000 people -- which would be far and away the Valley's biggest city if it were to incorporate.
At contract facilities like the one at Settlers Bay, a private contractor operates mail and package services and administers post-office boxes.
Four staff, including unit manager Nina Vignola, worked at the post office.
The post office also handled mail for the 1,300-inmate Goose Creek Correctional Center and three schools, Spinelli said.
The Postal Service and Spinelli sparred over the financial terms of his contract, he said, and the two were $25,000 apart on this last contract, which was supposed to run through March.
Spinelli said he needed to hire more staff. He noticed in mid-September -- with two staff off work after the long Labor Day weekend -- that mail was "just stacking up" on the two staffers working that day. His manager, Vignola, told him half the mail was misdelivered to Knik. There was also a misunderstanding about Federal Express and UPS shipments, he said.
Spinelli said he notified the Postal Service on Sept. 10 he wanted out of his contract in March.
"They came and raided the place eight days later," he said.
Postal Service officials didn't respond when asked about Spinelli's contention that contract issues triggered the closure.
Joanne Olsen retired from a state job in Anchorage to Settlers Bay last month and got a post office box at Knik for convenience. Then the post office closed.
Now Olsen picks up her mail maybe once a week, driving out of her way about 8 miles to Wasilla's post office and then to a new job in Big Lake.
It's not very convenient -- and it's not clear to anybody when the Knik post office will reopen again.
"I don't have a problem putting up with it temporarily," Olsen said Monday as she looked through her packages at the Wasilla Post Office next to a small line of other displaced Knik postal customers. "I just don't know if there's light at the end of the tunnel."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing