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SIOUX CITY -- The U.S. Postal Service is once again considering consolidating mail-sorting operations in Sioux City by moving them to a processing center in Sioux Falls, postal officials announced Thursday.

Officials with the postal service began the study to look at the potential consolidation in light of declining mail volumes nationwide.

Agency spokesman Rich Watkins said the study was spurred by the same problems as in November 2005, when the service considered consolidation but ultimately decided to leave the mail processing center in Sioux City.

According to the announcement from the U.S. Postal service, the decline in mail volume and current economic downturn have resulted in historically large deficits. Even when the economy fully recovers, the announcement said, the Postal Service does not expect mail volume to return to previous peak levels, and is projecting annual deficits for the foreseeable future.

"Just as we said five years ago, those trends continued to the point now we're losing significant volume," said Watkins, who said the study will conclude in the spring. "We're down 20 percent."

American Postal Workers Union Local 186 President Scott Tott was hopeful more processing scheduled to be sent to the Sioux City facility at the end of the month would help keep it in town. Officials had planned to have the Sioux City mail processing center, which employs about 100 people, begin sorting mail from Carroll, Iowa, and cities near it.

The Sioux City center already handles mail from the area, but Tott said if it gets the additional workload, employees will sort Carroll-area mail door-to-door according to each mail carrier's route.

"If we get more work and more processing, hopefully that'll strengthen our case not to move it up to Sioux Falls," Tott said.

Sioux City Mayor Mike Hobart said the city will develop a strategy with its economic development department, the Siouxland Initiative, Siouxland Chamber of Commerce and other area communities to keep the mail processing center - and its jobs -- in Sioux City.

"It's something that benefits the tri-state area," Hobart said. "It's pretty important to the region."

They also may need to enlist the support of area senators and representatives, Hobart said, who were instrumental in keeping the mail processing center in Sioux City the last time it was on the chopping block.

In 2006, a feasibility study found moving processing from Sioux City to Sioux Falls for outgoing mail with ZIP codes 510-513 and incoming mail with ZIP codes 512-513 would have saved an estimated $873,000 in the first year. The move would have cost an additional $100,000 in transportation, the study found.

Three members of Iowa's congressional delegation -U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley and U.S. Rep. Steve King - requested the inspector general conduct an independent review of the study, which it did.

Although the study in 2006 reccommended moving operations to Sioux Falls, the Postal Service elected to keep the processing center in Sioux City.

Hobart said area officials might be able to make their case to keep the processing center during the upcoming annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., in April.

"Hopefully that'll be one of the meetings we can make ... with the powers that be in the postal system," he said.


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