Postal Service mandate impacts Downeast islands, former mail contractor

Swans Island

SWANS ISLAND (WGME) -- A newly enforced mandate by the U.S. Postal Service is impacting two islands off Downeast Maine, and the man who's delivered their mail for decades.

It takes 40 minutes by ferry to reach Swans Island. LJ Hopkins said it's a trip he's made some 12,000 times.

"Come out every day," he said. "Usually at 11 o'clock and go back at 3."

In his silver van are deliveries: UPS, freight, special requests and supplies for the market.

He loves the islanders and they love him.

"The first thing people said to me was, 'You have to talk to LJ, 'cause he'll get you anything.'" said Jill Lewis, who moved to the island a year ago.

These days, Hopkins' load is a bit lighter.

"Everything but the mail, yes," said Hopkins.

After more than two decades as a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service, Hopkins isn't allowed to carry mail in his van alongside everything else.

Stephen Doherty, a USPS spokesperson, said they're paying a contract price that includes the exclusive use of the cargo room. "The concern of the Postal Service is the security and sanctity of the mail, which remains the responsibility of the Postal Service until it is delivered," said Doherty.

The policy isn't new, but Robert Van Horn, Hopkins' attorney, said Hopkins had always been given an exemption as an "over the water" carrier. That is, he said, until a new post mistress took over.

"Why there needed to be a one-size fits all approach to it all of a sudden, you know, it's really left us scratching our heads," said Van Horn.

Swans Island is still getting mail delivery six days a week, but the island of Frenchboro, another two miles out from the mainland, is down to two. In the past, Hopkins had a local business owner take it over by boat everyday. Now, people there have to rely on the ferry service, which only runs on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

"It seems this is becoming a very bureaucratic solution to a very non-bureaucratic problem," said Rachel Bishop, who lives on Frenchboro and serves as treasurer, as well as tax collector.

From one island to the next, residents are passionate about what they call "a great loss."

"When you're six miles off the coast of Maine, you can't just run to the Post Office when you need something," said Karen Griffin, a Swans Island resident.

They've reached out to Maine's congressional delegation, and more than 150 residents turned out at a pot luck supper to support Hopkins.

"Basically people from away going by the rules," said Swans Island Selectman Myron Sprague. "No place is the same. Everything is site specific and this is a perfect example."

As long as it's affordable, Hopkins will continue to make the daily trip.

"The people, like I say, is like family to me," said Hopkins. "We've all grown up together. Everybody watches out for everybody else. That's the way life is here."

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