Campers swim, boat and play sports. They make lifelong friends.
They also get lots and lots and lots of mail from their families.
But now, mail delivery to the camp in the Glenwood section of Vernon Township has hit a summer detour. Or a road block. Or a fork in the road.
Choose your idiom of preference.
The camp’s executive director, Hal Pugach, said the camp has had a 72-year-long established postal delivery route with the Sussex Branch Post Office.
“For 45 weeks of the year, delivery has always been made to our roadside mailbox, located on Glenwood Mountain Road,” he said. “However, during the approximately seven weeks of our seasonal operation, the postal carrier has historically delivered the mail to our facility, which is located one half mile from the main road. After our season, the mail delivery reverts again to the roadside box.”
Pugach said the seasonal delivery change is because of the massive volume of letters and packages that come for campers, who are as young as 7. They’re away from home for weeks at a time, without computers, e-mail or cell phones.
Because of that, Pugach said, the roadside mailbox can’t accommodate the 30 to 50 packages that arrive daily, nor can it hold the large sacks of letters campers receive. So over the years, he said, carriers have turned off the main road, driven half a mile down an unpaved road to the first camp building and made daily deliveries there.
But not this year.
Three days before the start of camp, the new postmaster told the camp it would no longer deliver any mail that doesn’t fit in the roadside box, Pugach said.
“What that essentially means is that the bulk of our campers’ mail and packages will not be delivered to us, as the volume will far exceed the capacity of the box,” he said.
“Accordingly, we are now being forced to pull one of our staff away from supervising the children in order to send them to the Sussex Post Office to get the mail — mail which has always been delivered to our facility.”
That’s a 45-minute round-trip excursion, he said, not counting the time it takes to wait in line, have a clerk scan and check out every package and load it all into a camp vehicle.
Pugach said he’s appealed to the new postmaster several times, to no avail.
“He essentially said there’s a new sheriff in town,” Pugach said
WHY THE CHANGE?
Pugach said the postmaster offered two reasons for his decision — both of which Pugach said had been addressed and resolved with past postmasters.
First, Pugach said, the postmaster said the rules only require delivery no more than a mile from the main road.
“The camp sits on 152 acres, however, the postal carrier has never been asked to distribute mail throughout the camp grounds,” Pugach said. “All we have ever asked is that delivery be made to one building, the first building when they enter the camp, and we will distribute the mail to all of the addressees.”
The distance from the main road to the building in question is exactly a half-mile, resulting in a one-mile round trip, Pugach said.
“The postmaster, however, takes the position that in order to exit the facility they must make the turnaround in a cul-de–sac, and therefore, the trip exceeds a mile,” he said.
Plus, Pugach said, he’s made “three-point turns” or “K-turns” at that location thousands of times, so driving an additional tenth of a mile for a U-turn isn’t necessary.
“What the postmaster fails to mention is that there are also provisions in the postal regulations which allow for: a) extensions of the route; b) seasonal operation exceptions; and c) hardship case exceptions,” Pugach said.
“Apparently, the postmaster automatically and arbitrarily deems an unpaved road as unsafe,” Pugach said. “The camp road is a natural, unpaved road but by the Postal Service’s own operations manual, whether a road is paved or unpaved is not the determinant of whether deliveries shall be made.”
Pugach quoted the manual, which requires that roads be “maintained” and “passable.” He said the road is both maintained and certainly passable.
“In fact, it has been used by the Sussex Branch postal carriers themselves for 72 years without issue and without incident,” he said.
Other business vehicles — including trucks far larger than a postal vehicle — have traveled this road weekly, he said, including those from Federal Express and UPS.
There have also been bus companies, mason and concrete delivery trucks, propane trucks, food vendors and contractor trucks. The police, fire department and ambulance corps have all used the road without incident.
“The daily use of the road by all of these other vehicles, as well as the Postal Service’s own vehicles, occurs without incident and the road’s safety record is excellent,” he said.
“There has not been an accident on our road in the 20 years that I have been affiliated with the camp. I don’t know of too many ‘paved’ roads around town that can boast that claim.”
Given all this, Pugach said he doesn’t understand why the postmaster is refusing the short-term route change.
He speculates it’s an economic issue.
“Even if that is the case, the slight increase is more than offset by the additional revenue generated by the thousands of parcels and packages that are sent by our camper families during the short season of our operation,” he said. “By our calculations, the additional packages generate an increase in revenue of between $8,000 and $10,000. Does that not warrant sending a carrier for an additional one tenth of a mile?”
Indeed, the United States Postal Service Operations Manual seems to support seasonal delivery to the camp.
Section 663.3 says: “Delivery of this mail is made to the customer’s residence if it is not more than 1/2 mile from the route and the road leading to it is passable.”
Granted, the camp is not technically a residence, but try telling that to the more than 200 kids who call camp home for the summer.
It also says, in Section 652.332: “Rural delivery service is not established over roads that are not kept in good condition, that are obstructed by gates, or that cross unbridged streams that are not fordable throughout the year. If travel over private roads is proposed, the person responsible for road maintenance must provide a written agreement to keep the road passable at all times. The agreement must include the statement: ‘It is understood that if the road is not properly maintained, rural delivery service will be withdrawn.’”
The camp would be happy to provide such an agreement.
We also asked Pugach if he would be willing to install a larger box or small shed for summer deliveries at the site of the roadside mailbox.
Absolutely, he said, also suggesting they could put a mail shed in the camp’s parking lot, which is even closer to the main road and would allow for an easy U-turn for the carrier.
So we reached out to the postmaster.
“I’m not commenting,” he said. When we tried to explain the idea of installing a new and larger box next to the existing roadside one, he said he had already suggested that to the camp.
He then hung up the phone.
“No, that’s not true. I don’t recall him suggesting that to us,” Pugach said. “We’re not heartless people and we’re willing to work with them.”
We asked USPS to review the postmaster’s decision. The next day, Pugach received a call from two supervisors. They offered a temporary solution: the carrier would place the bags of mail and packages next to the roadside mailbox at the same time every day.
Then, the supervisors would meet with Pugach to come up with a permanent solution.
“They said, to paraphrase, we understand that those packages have to get to the kids and we can’t make you come down 45 minutes every day,” Pugach said.
A USPS spokesman confirmed Pugach’s conversation.
“They will work out a mutually agreeable location on Mr. Pugach’s property for a larger mail receptacle that can accept letters and larger parcels during the summer season when the camp’s mail volume jumps significantly,” the spokesman said.
Pugach said he looks forward to meeting with the postal reps, and he’ll let us know what happens.