NORTH SWANZEY — A months-long effort by Swanzey officials to make the town’s ZIP codes uniform was dealt a major setback by the U.S. Postal Service in February, prompting New Hampshire’s two senators to step into the fray.
North Swanzey is fully incorporated in the town Swanzey, but shares a ZIP code with Keene — 03431 — instead of the 03446 ZIP code for the rest of Swanzey. Roxbury and Surry are also covered by the 03431 ZIP code.
The ZIP code oddity, along with several (formerly) similar street names within town, have been considered problems by residents and officials for a few reasons. Among them: mis-delivered or delayed mail, and slowed emergency response times.
Selectmen were able to get a move on changing the street names last year; for example, as of Dec. 31, Centerview Circle was slated to become Spruce Circle, Depot Road Extension was to become Tower Lane, and Homestead Avenue was to become Holbrook Avenue.
Officials had also hoped to unify Swanzey’s ZIP code at the same time as the street name changes, but decided to go ahead with the address changes first because there was no clear indication at the time that the Postal Service was going to unify the Swanzey ZIP code, Swanzey Town Administrator Michael T. Branley explained last December.
But on Feb. 3, the Northern New England District of the Postal Service handed down a rejection of Swanzey’s previous request that North Swanzey’s ZIP Code be changed to the one that includes the rest of town: 03446.
The rejection letter said that ZIP codes don’t necessarily follow official or traditional community boundaries, and that realignment of ZIP codes only happens “when there are no viable administrative solutions.”
In Swanzey’s case, postal authorities determined that “renaming similarly named streets Swanzey shares with Keene and providing North Swanzey with their own community identity by way of a Preferred Last Line (PLL) for use on their mail is the most cost-effective administrative solution available,” the February 3 letter said.
That means that residents in this part of Swanzey are now allowed to list “North Swanzey, N.H., 03431” on their addresses.
Bruce Bohannon, Swanzey’s emergency management director, argued the postal service doesn’t understand that the ZIP code issue affects services other than its own.
“It’s not just (the postal service). It’s TV, telephone service, UPS, and FedEx,” he said.
Kenneth P. Colby Jr., chairman of the Swanzey Board of Selectmen, said the town has appealed the decision, and is waiting on a reply from the Postal Service.
An April 7 letter from postal service manager James Boldt, addressed to Swanzey selectmen, acknowledged the appeal. The letter said the postal service’s Northeast Area office would review the decision “and determine if any reasonable means of full or partial accommodation can be identified.” Boldt also wrote that “you can expect a determination in approximately 60 days.”
Bill Hutwelker and Sylvester Karasinski, the other two Swanzey selectmen, could not be reached for further comment Sunday or this morning.
Offering some perspective on the town’s appeal of the Postal Service decision, Colby, Jr. mentioned the scale of complaints related to delayed or mishandled parcels.
“(They’re) far in excess of one,” he said, pointing to Park Street, which exists in both Keene and North Swanzey, as an example of where such complaints have been coming from.
Colby, Jr. also said the complaints he knew of were for mishandled FedEx and UPS packages; he couldn’t speak on the point of whether the complaints said that the Postal Service made any such errors.
In the meantime, N.H. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen have stepped in on Swanzey’s behalf. Hassan and Shaheen, both D-N.H., co-signed a letter Thursday to Megan J. Brennan, the postmaster general and CEO of the U.S. Postal Service.
They asked Brennan to consider the opinion of residents in the postal service’s reply to Swanzey’s appeal.
“We understand that USPS could perform a survey of the residents in the area to determine if a majority of people affected are in favor of adjusting the ZIP code boundary. We believe this should be ordered to gauge the opinions of residents in the affected areas,” the letter reads.
A spokesman for the Postal Service said this morning that he did not immediately have information on when and how the 03431 ZIP code was created, how often requests to change ZIP code boundaries are granted, or what appropriate justifications are for changing the boundaries. This story will be updated on sentinelsource.com to reflect his responses, when they become available.
Colby, Jr. explained that the saga regarding the town’s request for the Post Office to unify the Swanzey ZIP Code goes back to last year, when a Swanzey official spoke with Keene’s Postmaster, Jay A. Pompei; Colby said Pompei “indicated (changing the North Swanzey ZIP Code) wouldn’t be a problem.”
Michael Branley, Swanzey’s town administrator, corroborated Colby Jr.’s recounting of events, adding that Pompei made a similar comment last August or September at a meeting of Swanzey’s E911 committee. Branley added that Pompei had said that a USPS survey could be conducted to gauge the opinion of North Swanzey residents about their ZIP code.
Pompei could not be reached this morning for comment; this morning, Jeremy Montgomery, officer in charge at the Keene Post Office, said Pompei is not currently working. Montgomery said he did not have historical information on why 03431 ZIP code also includes North Swanzey, Roxbury and Surry.
Colby, Jr. said it’s his understanding that the reason why this regional quirk exists, at least in Swanzey, is because the Keene Post Office delivered mail to the northern part of Swanzey back when the ZIP code system came into use.
According to zipboundary.com, which is owned by TTG, Inc., a firm that develops map data and business mapping software, ZIP stands for “Zone Improvement Plan,” and the postal service chose the acronym “to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly, when senders use it.”
According to the website, ZIP codes were first implemented in 1943 to zone mail in major U.S. cities; the system became much more widespread by the 1960s. The postal service even deployed a mascot to advertise the digits — Mr. ZIP, who was prominent in 1960s issue stamp booklets.
Colby, Jr. expressed his frustration at the postal service’s resistance to the proposed zip code change in his town.
“Frankly, I don’t think Washington should have a problem with Swanzey, New Hampshire, having a single ZIP code,” he said.