Steamboat Springs Wayne Miller has a mailbox less than 100 feet from his home on Meadowbrook Circle, close enough for the kind of walk a man can take in his bathrobe and slippers. To get his mail, however, Miller has to drive 1.8 miles into town and park at the post office by the busiest intersection in Steamboat Springs.
Miller's home is within the boundaries of Phase 5 of the city's cluster mailbox installation program, an area which encompasses homes from Fish Creek Falls Road to Anglers Drive. Although the city and developers have installed 53 cluster box units of 12 or 16 boxes to serve 814 residents in Phase 5, those cluster boxes have never held mail. The city is now asking the post office to begin delivering that mail, but, according to Postmaster Bill Butler, if not enough people use those boxes, starting a whole new delivery route may not be worth the money.
"To deliver to a cluster of 16 boxes for just two or three customers, it's just not cost-effective," Butler said.
The post office currently has the capacity to deliver mail to 3,500 households at cluster boxes in Steamboat Springs, but only makes 1,100 to 1,200 such deliveries a day, Butler said. People with access to the boxes are simply not using them. Meanwhile, the post office fills almost 8,000 boxes a day at the two post offices in town. Paying drivers to deliver mail to only 30 percent of the potential cluster-box customers is not an efficient way of doing business, even though each cluster box already cost the post office about $1,000, Butler said. He estimated the cost of paying someone to deliver the mail to Phase 5 boxes at $30,000 to $40,000 a year. So now, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on cluster boxes, the post office may up and walk away from the project.
The decision hinges on a survey slated to go out within the next few weeks to residents in the Phase 5 area. Depending on the number of people who are willing and ready to use the cluster boxes, the post office will examine the cost-effectiveness of delivering mail.
City officials, however, see the survey as a non-issue one way or the other, the residents of that area will be getting mail delivered to their boxes, said Susan Dellinger, the city's Geographical Imaging Systems specialist.
"We're getting it," Dellinger said emphatically. "The citizens and the city and the local postal service have already invested in it. It's the final phase of a fiv- year project it can't stop."
If they have to, both Dellinger and Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord have pledged to go door to door to get the required surveys filled out.
Butler said he was not sure how many surveys it will take to satisfy the Denver branch of the post office.
He said he supports the city's efforts to get the cluster boxes filled, but must get the okay from his supervisors in Denver before paying a contractor to deliver the mail.
The residents of the area, meanwhile, are wondering when they will be getting their mail delivered to the boxes, which have signs on them alerting people that they are not being used. After cluster boxes were installed on Meadowbrook Circle last summer, for instance, Miller called the post office to find out when he could start picking up his mail at the box. He was told delivery would begin last fall, then that it would be delayed until January and finally that it will be at least July before any mail sits in the boxes.
"I can't get a straight answer," Miller said. "It just seems to me I wish I could have an explanation. I haven't gotten any explanation."
The city buys the cluster boxes and used to pay for the installation of those boxes. The installation costs for each phase come to about $25,000, Dellinger said. The city now makes developers install the boxes after they subdivide a piece of land.