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Residents worry about possible loss of Kalaupapa Post Office

The U.S. Postal Service is considering shuttering a tiny Molokai post office in the remote Kalaupapa peninsula known as a former leprosy settlement, accessible only by plane or mule.

The one-woman Kalaupapa office that serves less than 100 residents is on a list of about 3,700 locations nationwide the postal service announced Tuesday are being considered for closure.

“The post office is the lifeline for the residents out here at Kalaupapa,” Stephen Prokop, Kalaupapa National Historical Park superintendent, said Wednesday. “There is no Internet access, no cellphone access. Mail is the only way we can communicate.”

Hansen’s disease patients were forced into isolation there in 1866, where they were cared for by Father Damien, who became Hawaii’s first saint in 2009. About a dozen patients still live there since the quarantine was lifted in 1969, Prokop said. The rest of the residents are mostly National Park Service employees who tend to more than 200 historic structures.

“The youngest patient is 70. For them to not have access to regular mail is extreme,” Prokop said.

Mail is processed in Honolulu and then flown once a day to the Kalaupapa office, which “serves the most isolated population of postal customers in the state,” said USPS spokesman Duke Gonzales. “We understand especially in a community like Kalaupapa the necessity of mail and what mail means to them.”

That’s why the postal service is looking for alternative ways Kalaupapa residents can receive mail if the office closes, including using a privately operated office or a mail receiving agency that distributes mail for a larger organization such as a college. Gonzales said the post office won’t close without finding a way to give customers access to mail service.

The Kalaupapa post office is an example of other historical relationships the postal service has with remote areas, such a settlement of Native Americans in the Grand Canyon that get mail delivered by a mule.

“There are others that are more remote,” Gonzales said. Kalaupapa is “only a short plane ride from Oahu.”

The unique way mail arrives to Kalaupapa, where residents pick up letters and packages from the post office, was first highlighted by The Maui News on Wednesday.

Two post offices on Oahu and one on Kauai are also on the list of potential closures. Most of the 3,653 post offices nationwide being studied for closure have so little foot traffic that workers average less than two hours of per day and average sales are less than $50 a day, Gonzales said.

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