The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that it will stop processing mail in Hampden and move that operation to a processing facility in Scarborough after mid-May.

The move is part of a nationwide consolidation of mail-processing facilities that is likely to lengthen delivery times for first-class mail, the Postal Service said.

Most of the 183 jobs at the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility in Hampden will be affected, spokesman Tom Rizzo said.

He said many of those employees will be offered jobs in eastern Maine post offices or at the Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough.

“We will work with the unions to find their members postal positions elsewhere,” he said.

Rizzo said he didn’t know how many new jobs would be added at the Scarborough plant, which currently employs 540 people. He said it will take the Postal Service several weeks to determine the impact.

The Hampden plant will remain open as a transportation hub for the transfer of mail coming from and going to southern Maine, he said.

Rizzo said no date has been set for the change, but it cannot happen before May 15 – the end date for a Congress-requested moratorium on closing and consolidating post offices and processing facilities.

The Postal Service is closing 223 of its 460 mail-processing facilities nationwide to reduce costs. Since 2006, the volume of first-class mail handled by the post office has declined by 25 percent.

Nationally, the consolidations are expected to result in a loss of roughly 35,000 jobs, which the post office hopes to achieve mainly through attrition.

Last week, the Postal Service warned it will lose as much as $18.2 billion a year by 2015 unless Congress grants it new leeway to eliminate Saturday delivery and raise the price of a postage stamp by as much as 5 cents.

It is asking Congress for permission to make service cuts and reduce annual payments of about $5.5 billion to prefund retiree health benefits. But in recent weeks, the Senate and House have stalled as lawmakers differ widely on costs, the level of financial oversight and the prospect of widespread postal closures.

The Postal Service, an independent agency of government, is subject to congressional control on major aspects of its operations. Earlier this month, the Postal Service said its quarterly loss ballooned to $3.3 billion amid declining mail volume and said it could run out of money by October.

The Postal Service points out that it receives no tax dollars for its operations and that it relies on the sale of postage, postal products and services.

“Consolidating operations is necessary if the Postal Service is to remain viable to provide mail service to the nation,” Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is urging Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to reconsider shutting down mail processing in Hampden.

In a letter sent Wednesday, she said she was “deeply disappointed and shocked” by the decision.

“If mail to and from the northern half of Maine has to travel all the way to the Scarborough plant to be processed, longer delivery times are inevitable, and that has consequences – for small businesses advertising their products or billing their customers, for families who use the mail for their daily newspaper delivery, for seniors who rely on the mail for their prescription drugs, and for so many others.”

Collins in a statement said that the changes will threaten the Postal Service’s revenues by driving customers to use the Internet or alternative shipping companies.

“Changes that lead to further declines in volume would only worsen the crisis facing the Postal Service and harm our economy since so many jobs depend on a healthy Postal Service,” Collins said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364, or at:

[email protected]

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