Last-minute response saves Freeland post office from having water shut off

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stop the mail, but a pesky and persistent water leak came close this week.

A Freeland Water and Sewer District official confirmed Friday that the U.S. Postal Service nearly had their water shutoff due to inaction regarding an ongoing leak. The federal agency was given 30 days to address the problem, and responded the day before the deadline, narrowly averting a possible closure of the building.

Andy Campbell, the water district’s manager, said he was contacted Friday morning by postal officials and told a contractor had been hired. Some work — utilities location — began that day, but the real repair wouldn’t begin until next week at the earliest.

“That satisfies our requirements,” Campbell said.

Ernie Swanson, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service’s Seattle district, confirmed the agency had hired Northwest Management Services to make the fix and that the heavy lifting is still at least a week away.

While it appears the two agencies have reached an agreement, the seemingly simply issue has percolated for more than a year. Campbell noticed water usage at the post office, located on the corner of Main Street and East Harbor Road, was steadily increasing in 2014. That’s often a sign of a leak, so he alerted postal workers of the potential problem, but it was never fixed.

District policy authorizes the district to shut off a customer’s water if a leak isn’t addressed within 30 days of an official notification. With no visible progress, Campbell mailed a warning letter to the post master May 13 alerting her of the pending enforcement action.

The response was that shutting off the water would effectively close the federal building due to employee requirements.

“She said they wouldn’t be able to be open without a functioning bathroom,” Campbell said.

With the deadline pending, he brought the issue before the district commissioners Monday during the their regular monthly meeting. Campbell explained that delays may be ,in part, due to the many bureaucratic channels associated with the federal agency — postal workers complained the repair was out of their hands and the responsibility of out-of-state postal officials.

Also, the leak may be difficult to address. The post office has old galvanized pipes and isolating the break may present challenges. It could be an expensive fix, but something needs to be done, he said.

“They’re losing a lot of water,” Campbell said.

The commissioners were unsympathetic to the delay, saying the problem had gone on long enough. They agreed to give the post office a two-week extension if a plan was submitted by the original June 13 deadline, but would carry through with the threat of service disruption.

“We’ve waited too long, lost too much water,” Commissioner Eric Hansen said. “It’s immoral.”

According to Campbell, he didn’t hear from the post office until Friday morning, which was after The Record contacted Swanson and inquired about the standoff. Campbell said the official he spoke with said approval for the emergency came from the top.

“The guy I talked with said he spoke with the number three guy in the country for the postal service,” he said.

Swanson said he couldn’t confirm who had spoken with Campbell, but believed the final OK came from the Denver office. Also, it’s unclear whether the post office would have really closed if the water had been shut off. There are rural locations where lone post masters lack bathrooms and must use neighboring facilities, he said, but there may be rules he’s unaware of that could have come into effect.

“I really can’t speculate on that,” Swanson said.