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New proposal calls for Letcher Co. mail to hit Knoxville first

Local mail may take two to three days

Letters mailed from Whitesburg and most other Letcher County post offices will be processed and distributed from Knoxville, Tenn., under a new plan announced by the U.S. Postal Service.

The Postal Service said it began studying its Hazard Customer Service Mail Processing Center on Sept. 15 and determined that the work being performed there can be better performed at the Knoxville plant.

The change from Hazard to Knoxville means that first-class mail originating in Letcher County will be on a “two- to three-day service standard” by the time it gets to Tennessee and back. Letters mailed from Jenkins and Burdine are now processed in Charleston, W.Va.

The Hazard center and a similar center in Lexington are among more than 250 processing centers the Postal Service announced it would eliminate on Monday. As a result of the closings, nearly 30,000 workers — including six in Hazard — would be laid off as the post office struggles to respond to a shift to online communication and bill payments.

The cuts are part of $3 billion in reductions aimed at helping the agency avert bankruptcy next year. They would virtually eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive anywhere the next day, a change in first-class delivery standards that have been in place since 1971.

The plan technically must await an advisory opinion from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, slated for next March. But that opinion is nonbinding, and only substantial pressure from Congress, businesses or the public might deter far-reaching cuts.

Many postal customers will be upset.

“The post office is a mainstay of America, and the fact that these services will no longer be available is absolutely crazy,” said Carol Braxton of Naperville, Ill., as she waited in line at a mail sorting center this week with the holiday shipping season picking up steam.

“Well I’m not happy about them, beautiful bird.”

Craft then notified Mitch Whitaker, a master falconer who works with the raptor rehabilitation program at the Letcher County Extension Office.

Whitaker used information contained on numbered bands on the bird’s feet and was able to track down its owner by contacting the American Racing Pigeon Union.

The pigeon belongs to Seth Burke, of Leslie, W.Va. Burke doesn’t race homing pigeons, but releases them during funeral services.

“ It’s a final goodbye,” said Burke. “It takes the focus from the casket and grave to the sky. It symbolizes the spirit being released to meet with the angel.”

During each service, Burke recites Psalm 55:6 which says “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.”

Burke has owned White Flights for the past 12 years and has released homing pigeons at thousands of funerals.

“It’s pretty popular,” said Burke. “It’s something different than a basket of flowers. ”

Burke trains the pigeons when they are young. Each bird has its own coop it stays in and learns to fly back to its numbered coop. As the homing pigeons get more experienced, Burke takes them farther away from their coop and they still find their way back to it. He said a bird is ready to be used at funerals after they can find their way back to their coop from 30 miles away.

Sometimes a pigeon will not come back to its home because of inclement weather or fear of hawks flying nearby. Burke said the period between October and March is when he usually loses pigeons.

Burke said about five years ago one of his pigeons got lost in a snowstorm in Kentucky. Someone found it and mailed it back to Burke. Another one of his pigeons was found by a special needs class in North Carolina, which he allowed the class to keep.

The homing pigeon found at Cram Creek was one of two Burke released during a funeral service on Nov. 20. One of the birds did not return to its home and traveled instead to Letcher County, which is 224 road miles from Leslie, which is located about an hour’s drive northeast of Beckley. Burke said it was a young pigeon that had been released at a few other funerals.

“Something happened and it didn’t come back,” said Burke.

Burke mailed a special box to Whitaker and the homing pigeon will be mailed back to West Virginia this week.

“Where they are raised they always know where their home is,” said Whitaker.

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