Chebeague Island residents are bracing for a cut in the schedule of their island’s post office. In September, island residents received a letter from the United States Postal Service asking residents to choose either to close the post office or to cut the post office’s hours back from an average of 7.3 hours a weekday to four hours a day. Eighty-seven percent of islanders who responded chose to cut hours over shuttering the post office, according to USPS data.

Since the letter was delivered, some island residents have been coordinating to fight the proposed cuts, saying a four-hour post office schedule isn’t feasible on Chebeague Island. Gloria Brown worked for a stint as a relief worker for the island’s postmaster general, often covering the post office’s four-hour Saturday shift. She says it was a struggle to do all that was needed to process the mail in four hours, and that was without the usual paperwork required on weekdays.

“I don’t believe it can all be done in just four hours a day,” Brown said.

Brown fears that a cutback in hours could create a sense of isolation for Chebeague residents, especially among senior islanders who rely on the post office for deliveries of medications, but who wouldn’t always be able to make it to the post office in time with the reduced hours.

After receiving the USPS letter, Brown and fellow islander John Holt began organizing island residents against the cutback. They contacted summer residents they believe were missed by the USPS mailing and urged them to fill out the survey. They also encouraged all island residents to contact their elected officials. Island post offices on Cliff Island, Monhegan and Matinicus were spared closure or drastically curtailed hours last year after Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins interceded on their behalf.

As part of the process to decide the fate of Chebeague’s post office, the USPS scheduled an on-island meeting with residents on October 16. It did little to assuage the islanders’ fears, said Brown. Chebeague residents brought up many questions that USPS officials couldn’t answer about how to make a reduced schedule work, she said. Island resident Beverly Johnson said the USPS presentation left her unimpressed; presentation material helpfully pointed out that the nearest post offices were just a few miles away on neighboring islands, she said.

“It was obvious they didn’t understand we were on an island,” Johnson said.

Brown and others are pushing to have their post office designated as a remote or isolated locale, which would qualify it to have a six-hour daily schedule under USPS rules. A similar re-designation helped expand the proposed hours for Cliff Island from two hours a day to six.

To be declared as isolated, a rural post office typically must be 25 miles away from the nearest post office, but such rules can be interpreted differently when considering island post offices, said Tom Rizzo, a spokesman for the northeastern operations of the USPS. According to Rizzo, notice was sent after the October 16 meeting to the Chebeague Island post office that the USPS is giving additional thought to its future.

Willy Ritch, a spokesman for Congresswoman Pingree, said the congresswoman has been in contact with the USPS and she is frustrated with how unclear the Postal Service has been about its rulemaking process on designating locales as part-time post offices, especially in island communities.

Congresswoman Pingree would like the rules to be amended to create a special category for post offices on islands that lack bridges to the mainland, said Ritch. The window for resolving the conflict will close by the end of the year, and she’s willing to do what it takes to preserve island post offices.

“She’s willing to work with them on this and she’s willing to fight them on this,” Ritch said.

This May, the USPS announced a nationwide plan to cut hours at some 13,000 rural post offices throughout the United States. The plan was announced after the USPS backtracked on a 2011 plan to close roughly 3,700 rural post offices. With the advent of email, mail volume has shrunk drastically in recent years, Rizzo said.

“We don’t need nearly as many facilities as we have, and we frankly can’t afford them,” Rizzo said.

The USPS posted a $5.2 billion debt in the second quarter of last summer, and it so far has been barred by Congress from borrowing more money, cutting Saturday mail service or raising stamp prices above the rate of inflation. The move to cut rural hours is another attempt by the USPS to curb costs, undertaken after a nationwide survey found that postal customers wanted to find an alternative to shuttering rural post offices.

For her part, Brown understands the USPS is in dire straits, and she wishes the national government would allow the postal service to make needed changes, but she understands that gridlock in Washington makes such a move unlikely in the foreseeable future.

“In the process, this is going to hurt a lot of people,” she said.

Craig Idlebrook is a freelance writer living in Medford, Mass.