With dozens of local jobs hanging in the balance, city officials are urging area residents and business leaders to be out “in force” during an Aug. 29 public hearing on the proposed closure of Bluefield’s Processing and Distribution Center.

“The encouragement is that this is your post office — this is everybody’s post office,” City Manager Andy Merriman said. “It’s an important part of the city. If you aren’t there you won’t be heard. Come out in force. We will be there. The city will be represented. And we will voice our concerns.”

Merriman said as many as 60 jobs could be lost if the processing and distribution center on Cumberland Road is closed and consolidated with existing postal centers in Charleston and Johnson City.

The U.S. Postal Service will hold the public hearing on Monday, Aug. 29, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bluefield Auditorium, located at 1800 Stadium Drive. The postal service is citing a deep decline in mail volume due to current economic conditions, as well as the growth of e-mail, as reasons for the proposed consolidation.

“We are going to see a loss of jobs, and we quite frankly can’t afford that,” Merriman said. “It (the processing and distribution center) has long been a part of our city, and it’s an important part of our city. A lot of commerce is created in that area and we want it maintained. It’s too valuable for the city to be shutdown. My point is we want to hang on to the jobs.”

The jobs are more urgently needed in Bluefield than they are in Charleston or Johnson City, according to Marc Meachum, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce.

“We hopefully can get people out there (for the public hearing),” Meachum said. “The chamber has gone on record as being opposed to them closing this facility here. In fact, I think we were one of the first organizations that wrote letters. Our whole focus is we need the jobs worse than Charleston or Johnson City. Close Johnson City or Charleston. That’s the better solution. And that’s our solution. It’s the jobs that concern us.”

Meachum said businesses across the greater Bluefield region still utilize and depend upon their local post office.

If the facility were to be closed, Meachum said the job loss would be another blow to Bluefield, particularly coming off of the closure of Flowers Bakery.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., also is urging citizens in the Bluefield area to attend the Aug. 29 hearing.

“This is our one big chance to stop this consolidation and save our postal facility,” Rahall said. “It is vitally important that Bluefield residents and businesses that rely on this facility for mail services make their views known during the public comment process.”

If the processing and distribution center is closed, the big question is whether the postal service would maintain the existing building on Cumberland Road for just a post office, Merriman said.

“That’s the million dollar question,” Merriman said. “If they are arguing it is an effort to cut costs, then how is it a cost-cutting measure to heat and maintain that building there with only (the existing post office) employees.”

Cathy Yarosky, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, said the postal service has an excess of employees and equipment in some mail processing operations. A study was launched on Feb. 2 to determine if it would be more feasible to relocate the existing Bluefield operations to Charleston or Johnson City.

Yarosky said the initial study results support the relocation of the mail processing operations from Bluefield to Charleston or Johnson City in order to “increase efficiency and improve productivity.”

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