By Ben Graham

A push to fix some of Jackson Hole’s long-standing U.S. Post Office woes — including the unlikely prospect of adding home delivery — is gaining momentum.

As of Tuesday, 361 people had signed a petition on Change.org asking that the widespread problem of “auto-returning” packages be dealt with.

Jackson Town Council members have picked up on the issue, which they say is a common complaint from constituents, especially during the holiday season.

At a meeting Monday the council questioned Jackson Postmaster Jennifer Grutzmacher, asking whether home delivery would be possible in the valley and what it would take to stop packages from being returned to their senders en masse.

“This holiday season it seemed to be particularly acute,” said Councilman Jim Stanford, who first brought up the subject. “It seems to get worse every year, I think, as more and more people rely on e-commerce to order products.

“I’ve heard gut-wrenching stories from people who have had critical packages they’ve been expecting that have been lost in limbo, really at a time when they couldn’t afford to have that happen,” Stanford said.

Councilman Bob Lenz chipped in his own story: The elder statesman waited about six weeks for $100 worth of Flathead Lake cherries from Butte, Mont., to come in the mail from his cousin this holiday season. By the time he received them, the crimson drupes were fermented in the plastic bags they were shipped in.

Lenz is not alone.

On Christmas Eve 2012 there were about 600 undeliverable packages stranded at the post office, Grutzmacher said at the time. She didn’t have an estimate for this winter.

The phenomenon occurs when parcels shipped through UPS or FedEx’s basic service are sent to street addresses. That often happens when people buy items from sites including Amazon.com and choose cheap shipping options.

Companies use the U.S. Postal Service for the “last mile of delivery” for those services. But because the government agency’s Jackson office has a long-standing policy of delivering only to P.O. boxes, the street-addressed packages are returned.

Everybody has a story

It seems like most residents have dealt with the issue at one time or another.

Rebecca Huntington helped launch the petition, largely out of her own frustration.

In 2011 the freelance writer and library employee was pregnant and having trouble sleeping. To help, she tried to order a special cheese wedge-shaped pillow, one that wasn’t available locally or at department stores elsewhere.

Huntington initially was hesitant to order the $20 cushion online because of past problems receiving packages, but it seemed to be her only choice.

She used her work address but still wasn’t sure why the pillow didn’t arrive as she stood at the front desk of the post office.

“Whatever the reason, I really wanted the pillow and I started crying,” Huntington said.

To be fair, everything made her cry because she was “cranky, sleep-deprived and hormonal,” she said.

Still it wasn’t pleasant for anyone, and Huntington sympathized with the post office employee who had to break the news to her.

“She just had to sit there, and how does she feel? She has to give a message that’s going to make a pregnant woman cry,” Huntington said.

She ended up getting the pillow before she gave birth, but she waited for two months.

The right way to ship?

Post office managers say the key is to always use your box number. If a street address is required, put the box number after it.

Still, people shouldn’t have to use loopholes, Huntington said.

“They tell you tricks, but they’re tricks,” she said.

And even those don’t work sometimes, at least according to some residents.

On the petition’s website, signees left comments venting their irritation.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Jackson resident Kristbjorg Johnson wrote Saturday. “I was told by the post office that when in doubt, put my box number after the ZIP code and they would hold it there. LOL Nope. Sorry honey, looks like you’re getting your Christmas presents never.”

Madeleine Mundt started the petition five months ago with Huntington to bring attention to a problem that she says is a common headache experienced by many in Jackson Hole.

“The amount of fuel and time and personal energy wasted on this — it just needs to be looked at again,” Mundt said.

Solution hard to come by

However, even with the attention and the support of the Town Council, change may be hard to come by.

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Mark Barron asked what it would take to get mail carriers for Jackson Hole. Write to a senator? Contact Postal Service bigwigs?

According to Grutzmacher and a Postal Service spokesman, it’s not possible.

“There’s no opportunity for that,” said David Rupert, postal spokesman for Wyoming and several other Rocky Mountain states. “The only new delivery we establish is centralized delivery.”

The service involves “clusters of boxes” that are built in a central point of a neighborhood. That kind of setup was installed at several of the newer subdivisions in the valley, including Rafter J and Melody Ranch, when they were built.

But to do so requires space for the boxes and regular snow removal, among other responsibilities that would fall on the neighborhood.

And even if those requirements were met, the Postal Service wouldn’t necessarily be willing to pay for delivery.

“With a $5 billion loss last year, the Postal Service is less than eager to take on such an expenditure,” Rupert said.

The spokesman said residents chose years ago to receive mail through post office boxes, and that eventually resulted in the new post office being built on Maple Way.

Everyone seems to agree that a decision was made decades ago to block, for the most part, home delivery in Jackson, but they can’t say exactly when or how.

“It’s almost like an urban legend of Jackson,” Stanford said at the meeting.

Grutzmacher recalled a community-wide vote in the 1980s that made things the way they are today.

Teton Barber Shop owner Mike Randall, also a petition signer, said Jackson has grown enough at this point that we should have mail carriers: “The charm of going to the post office, I’m over it,” Randall said.

End ‘last mile of delivery’?

If mail carriers aren’t a possibility, Mundt said she would at least like to see an end to the “last mile of delivery” practice.

Rupert said that responsibility would fall on the companies, mainly FedEx and UPS.

Whether that is a possibility is unclear at this point.

FedEx spokesman Ben Hunt did not say whether his company would stop using the U.S. Postal Service for some deliveries.

Instead, he said, “I can tell you that recipients should discuss the unique USPS delivery requirements for their area before ordering and work with the shipper to select the best delivery option. Based on the shipper’s delivery options, recipients should select a delivery option and provide the appropriate delivery address. We advise customers to work directly with their local post office to understand proper street address requirements.”

UPS did not respond by press time Tuesday.

FedEx and UPS have similar services that go through the Postal Service.

UPS SurePost is a contract service used by some large shippers.

Only parcels shipped using FedEx’s Smart Post are sent through local post offices. The service is used by online sellers.

Short of establishing home delivery, town leaders plan to meet with Grutzmacher to discuss potential solutions.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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(2) comments

Steven Nelson

Gotta believe that a not-so-insignificant portion of the $5 billon-a-year losses is the fuel and personnel costs to send these packages back to the sender. Would it really be so bad to hire a few temps to do a cross-reference between street addresses and PO boxes?

Ted Johnson

What timing for this article. I just sent back a Christmas gift to Jackson that was returned because of a street address. Our postal clerk was very sympathetic but I still had to pay postage for both the return and the reshippment. Our post office cross references street addresses and Po boxes regularly and were surprised that Jackson did not.

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