Postal Service no longer looking at shuttering Tucson's Cherrybell mail center
Following legislation passed by Congress earlier this year, the U.S. Postal Service said Thursday it will no longer consider ending mail sorting at Tucson's Cherrybell plant.
Ward 5 Councilman Richard Fimbres called the move a "victory" after more than a decade of effort to keep Tucson's Processing and Distribution Center at 1600 S. Cherrybell Stra. open despite the Postal Service's effort to close the Tucson site.
"The announcement is a great victory in our 11 and a half year effort to keep Cherrybell, Tucson and Southern Arizona’s post office and processing center, open and functioning for our community," said Fimbres. "Cherrybell serves more than 1.5 million people, 26,000 businesses, seniors, veterans, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation and communities in Southern Arizona."
Fimbres added he was following up on how the proposed plan would affect Cherrybell's operations, including whether some work will return to Tucson. Currently, under USPS consolidation efforts, first-class mail collected in Tucson is trucked to Phoenix for sorting and processing. Fimbres also said he is working to get Tucson's postmark back.
Thursday's announcement was "simply a regulatory process," said David G. Rupert, a USPS spokesman.
"We began this process of studying the Cherrybell Tucson Plant for consolidation in 2011. Last week, we announced that we were officially closing this study," he said. "We’ve continued the operations at the mail processing plant during the study process."
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero called the announcement "great news."
"Our mail processing facilities are a critical resource for so many Tucsonans, including seniors and small businesses owners," Romero wrote on Twitter.
In 2011 and then again in 2012, the Postal Service announced it would to close Cherrybell, part of larger effort to shut down more than 82 post offices across the country and save up to $2 billion nationwide.
As part of its closure process, the Postal Service began using Area Mail Processing studies to evaluate consolidations, but on Thursday, USPS said it was ending the studies. "Currently, 57 AMP studies are still open, and these open studies will be ended," USPS announced.
Instead, the Postal Service said it was moving forward with what it called the "Delivering for America Plan," which includes the development of a mail processing network enabling "more precise, efficient, and reliable service."
The Postal Service said it would establish a "new operating model that dramatically improves on-time delivery performance."
"As part of this plan, the Postal Service will re-assess the role of all processing facilities. The Postal Service will adhere to all legal, statutory, contractual and regulatory requirements as this network design is developed," USPS said, adding it "generally receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations."
In 2015, nearly 2.6 million pieces of mail went through the Tucson processing and distribution center daily, however, the Postal Service argued that volume was declining and the station's closure would save at least $14 million per year.
The move threatened up to 400 jobs, and city leaders warned the change would harm Tucson's economy and make it harder to recruit companies to the area.
City leaders — backed by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva and the Pima County Board of Supervisors — pushed back against the closure. Following a public outcry, leaders both parties weighed in, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, former Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, as well as current Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, and then-U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and Martha McSally when they were in office.
"The bipartisan work on this showed that our community can come together," Fimbres said.
In April, President Joe Biden signed the Postal Reform Act into law after a 79-19 vote in the Senate.
The act eliminated a requirement the U.S. Postal Service "pre-fund" retiree health benefits for 75 years, and shifted medical costs for Postal Service retirees to Medicare. After it passed, Fimbres said the act would make it easier for the Postal Service to keep Cherrybell open.