Williston Mayor Ward Koeser, from left, talks to Sen. John Hoeven, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and Postal Service District Manager Roy Reynolds on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, in Williston, N.D., during a roundtable discussion about postal service in the Oil Patch. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service
WILLISTON, N.D. – Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe toured North Dakota’s Oil Patch Wednesday and pledged to improve service to the rapidly growing area.
“I’m sorry this has taken so long, but we will get this stuff resolved,” Donohoe told community leaders during a roundtable meeting in Williston.
Residents of Williston and surrounding communities told Donohoe about inadequate post office facilities, mail that’s delayed or never arrives, and waiting in line for hours to pick up a package.
As Donohoe heard the concerns, he often said “We’ll take care of it” as his staff quickly took notes on his directives.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., hosted Donohoe in Williston to see the growth and the mail delivery challenges firsthand. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., also recently met with Donohoe with concerns about delivery to oil field housing units.
In Williston, Donohoe said the post office will add a station in the north side of town with post office boxes, an automated postal center and other services to take the pressure off the downtown post office.
Donohoe said he’ll send his vice president of facilities to North Dakota and have every Oil Patch post office surveyed in the next two weeks to better understand the needs and each area’s population growth.
Watford City’s post office, which is not much bigger than the meeting room where Wednesday’s discussion was held, was the perfect size for a community of about 1,500 people, said McKenzie County Farmer Publisher Neal Shipman.
But now that the city has grown to an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people, the post office is too small and has no room to grow, said Shipman, one of the roundtable participants. With many new residents receiving mail “general delivery,” it forces thousands of people to stand in line at the post office window to get their mail, he said.
“It is a massive problem,” Shipman said.
Reino Rousu, who manages 168 apartments in Watford City that house employees of Nuverra Environmental Solutions, formerly Power Fuels, said the postal service considers the apartments to be similar to college dormitories and will not deliver their mail.
However, in nearly two years, Rousu said residents of only two units have moved out and the rest have been long-time tenants.
Donohoe said as long as the workers are not coming and going every few weeks, they should be able to receive mail through clustered mailboxes.
“If they’re permanent residents, we’ll take care of it,” Donohoe said
Business and community leaders told Donohoe they’ve had to provide affordable housing for employees in order to retain staff.
“You have to think outside the box and do things necessary to continue to provide service,” said Williston Mayor Koeser, adding that it’s likely more difficult to do that on a federal level.
Donohoe said he doesn’t think the postal service could assist employees with housing, but salaries in the Bakken could potentially be bumped up, similar to how the service pays employees in Hawaii and Alaska.
“We’ll take a look here because it’s very unique,” Donohoe said.
The postal service has added more career-level carriers in northwest North Dakota to improve hiring.
Roy Reynolds, district manager for the Dakotas, said Williston is the only place in the country that had 10 career-level city carriers added in January, with even more staff being added.
Donohoe said he’ll be back in North Dakota to review the improvements that have been made.
“Do not worry. From afar, I will be keeping very close tabs on this,” Donohoe said.
Koeser and others complimented the postal service staff and said they work long hours to provide service.
“The people who work here, especially the people who work at the counter, are marvelous,” Koeser said. “You may wait in line a long time, but those ladies smile. I don’t know how they do it.”