Deliveries to Two Downeast Islands off MDI in Jeopardy After Postal Service Crackdown

Aug 22, 2016

For years, residents of Swans Island and Frenchboro have depended on a mail carrier who not only brought them letters and packages, but other necessities from the mainland, like food and medicine. But as of this spring, that mail carrier’s contract with the postal service ended over a dispute about how he carried the mail with other freight items. Some residents fear the loss of the contract to their longtime carrier now jeopardizes other essential island deliveries and members of Maine’s congressional delegation have gotten involved.

Ever since Brian Krafjack bought the Swan’s Island general store three years ago, he says he — like other residents of Swan’s Island and Frenchboro — has relied on a guy named Louis or “LJ” Hopkins.

“He’s a lifeline to the mainland for both of these communities,” Krafjack says.

Because for nearly three decades, Hopkins has been the go-to for supplies on the island. He delivers the food Krafjack sells at his store. He delivers prescriptions to residents. Whatever last-minute need crops up, says Krafjack, Hopkins is always there to help.

“If a lobsterman’s boat breaks down while he’s out fishing, he’ll call LJ on his cell phone, and LJ will have parts for him the same afternoon, generally.”

Hopkins loads up these items in his van, along with packages from Fed Ex, UPS, and, until April mail from the US Postal Service. That’s when Hopkins needed to sign a new contact, but he says he couldn’t agree to the terms.

“They told me I could no longer take anything but the mail,” he says.

Hopkins says the postal service told him that if wanted to load mail in his van, he couldn’t carry the other items he delivers to island residents

“I said I’m not turning my back on these people. They put me where I am today.”

Islanders pay Hopkins for his deliveries, but he says the postal service contract — worth $80,000 a year — accounted for half his income. And delivering everything together — the mail and other freight items — is the only way to be cost-efficient. He has to pay ferry, fuel, and insurance bills, and hires help to get the mail from Swans’ Island to Frenchboro.

“Without this postal service contract, it won’t be long till LJ can no longer operate,” says Keith Harriton, an attorney for both Hopkins and general store owner Brian Krafjack.

He’s written to the US Postal Service to try to resolve the matter, and is circulating a petition to support Hopkins, which he says has more than 600 signatures. The fear among residents is that without the postal contract, Hopkins will no longer be able to offer his other delivery services. Krafjack puts it bluntly:

“If we don’t have a freight service that serves both Frenchboro and Swan’s Island, there’s no store.”

Maine Senators Susan Collins, Angus King, and Representative Bruce Poliquin sent a letter to the postal service last week, asking to allow the transport of mail and freight in a single vehicle. USPS spokesman Steve Doherty says he doesn’t know the specifics of the Swans Island and Frenchboro mail contract, but:

“The thing is, the mail has to be transported obviously in such a way that it’s protected from the elements, and not co-mingled with other items that could compromise the securtiy, safety, or sanctity of the mail.”

Doherty says his understanding is that Hopkins wasn’t prohibited from carrying other freight, he just had to do it in a certain way, but opted not to sign the contract.

“There were some issues with what was being co-mingled, and how the mail was being carried, and things like that.”

Hopkins says he doesn’t know why he’s being punished for something he says he’s never done wrong. He points out that other islands carry mail and freight together, and he hopes the postal service will allow him to do the same. A new, four-year contract for the position begins this October.