FLAG POND — Buddy Floyd took advantage of his surroundings to make his point.
Floyd stood from his seat and held up a copy of a Broadman Hymnal book located near his seat, adding that he recalled “Will Your Anchor Hold” as one of his favorite hymns.
“Well if we lose this post office, we lose the anchor of our community,” Floyd said, “and we need it here.”
Floyd was one of more than 70 residents of the Flag Pond community who packed into the pews at Flag Pond Baptist Church on Thursday evening to obtain more information regarding and to voice concern about the possible closure of the Flag Pond Post Office, located no more than a few feet from the church.
Greg Jones from the U.S. Postal Service district office, who was on hand at Thursday’s public meeting, said the small community’s post office was among approximately 2,600 post offices across the country previously announced as being studied for possible closure by the USPS. This study, he said, is based on four years’ worth of information complied by the USPS.
Jones said the USPS has seen its mail volume decrease by approximately 43 billion pieces over the past five years. He said the USPS is currently petitioning Congress to allow the Postal Service to operate 5 days per week, which would save it around $3.3 billion annually. A bill is also currently in Congress that, if passed would, slow the closure of the post offices under study. The USPS does not receive government subsidies, Jones said.
“We’re in financial hard times just like everybody is,” Jones said of the USPS. “What the Post Office is trying to do is stay ahead so we don’t get into an absolvency issue.”
The Flag Pond Post Office is one of 62 post offices in the state of Tennessee currently being studied for possible closure. Jones said there is around two to three hours of workload per day in the Flag Pond Post Office.
“We don’t understand all the reasons and the criteria that went into selecting the Flag Pond Post Office,” Jones said. “All that we know is headquarters said ‘Here’s your 62,’ and by law we have to come out and have community meetings to study.”
USPS spokesperson Beth Barnett previously said no decisions regarding any of the post offices facing potential closure would be made before December of this year.
The residents who spoke up at the meeting agreed that closure of the Flag Pond Post Office would create a burden for the community’s citizens, particularly its elderly population.
Flag Pond resident and Unicoi County Commissioner Loren Thomas said the facility’s closure would create an more than 20-minute drive to for Flag Pond citizens to do business at the Erwin Post Office. He said many of the community’s citizens work during the day, and would be unable to interact with and take advantage of the services offered by the area’s rural mail carrier.
Thomas, along with fellow Unicoi County Commissioner and former Flag Pond postmaster Bill Hensley, previously created a petition to acquire signatures in support of saving the post office. While he said he only has a fraction of those petitions in his possession, Thomas said it already has more than 400 signatures, including that of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st.
The USPS also previously announced the possible implementation of “village post offices” in areas in which post offices are closed. Through this, businesses near closed post offices would offer the USPS’s most popular products and services. However, Thomas said this concept is not an option for Flag Pond.
“Flag Pond, as most everybody in here knows, over the past 15 years we’ve lost every single business that we have, so there’s no option for a village post office,” Thomas said. “...We still have our residents here, but we don’t have anything left except for our post office.”
“If you close our post office, you might as well raze Flag Pond off the map,” another resident in attendance said.
Flag Pond resident Eddie Ray said that the Postal Service was set up as service for the people of the United States.
“I’m firm in believing that all these communities should stand together and fight it tooth and claw that we keep our post offices,” Ray said.
Although not a resident of Flag Pond, Unicoi County resident John Day previously completed an impact study on the closure of the Flag Pond Post Office, which he sent to USPS officials. Day said that per federal law, post offices cannot be closed due to loss of money.
“It’s travesty for the Postal Service to even consider closing this post office down,” Day said. “It’s the fabric of your community.”
Day also said the lack of the post office in the community may prevent businesses from locating in Flag Pond once the economy turns around.
Jones said if the decision is made the Flag Pond Post Office, citizens will have an opportunity to appeal the decision.