"The government's trying to save jobs; now they're going to get rid of a bunch of them," said Morrissey, who is retired. "I'd hate to see people lose their jobs in such a small town."

Stephen Mangasarian, the chef and owner of Banning's Tavern, said he occasionally relies on the mail for specialty ingredients — something he would reconsider if delays became a problem. He said the loss of good-paying jobs could also reduce his supply of customers.

"A hundred and thirty jobs in a town this size is a lot," said Mangasarian, 58. "It cuts into the wallets of people who eat" at the restaurant.

Business owners point to the closing of a sorting hub in Frederick last November; the mail from that facility is now sent to Baltimore. Jones and others have heard stories about Christmas catalogs arriving in January. Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who supports merging Easton into Wilmington, said the Frederick closure led to "major logjams."

Singh acknowledged delays after the Frederick site was closed but said the organization has resolved those issues.

Under their contract, employees at the Easton plant will be offered other jobs if the facility moves. But the offer could be for positions in Wilmington, an unattractive commute for many. Bonnie McCaslin, a 56-year-old Taylors Island resident, said she'd probably have to leave Maryland.

Commuting to Delaware would take her more than two hours each way.

"We'd have to uproot," said McCaslin, who has performed clerical work at the Easton plant for 25 years. "Our whole life is kind of in limbo."

In Washington, the proposal has created an unusual political dynamic that appears to pit two Democratic senators against each other. Carper, a leading voice in Congress on postal reform and the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service, has publicly pushed for moving Easton's work to his home state.

"Instead of closing the mail processing center at Easton and diverting that work to what sounds at times like an overwhelmed processing center in Baltimore, send it to Hares Corner for processing," Carper said during a recent hearing, referring to the mail hub located just outside Wilmington.

Mikulski, a master at leveraging her seniority to protect Maryland's interests, is pushing back. In a Feb. 23 letter to U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, Mikulski and Sen. Ben Cardin argued that the only reason the Postal Service is even considering moving the center to Delaware is because of "undue political influence."

"I don't want Delaware at war with us," Mikulski said. "But if we have to, we will fight."

The interstate wrangling comes as Carper is also sponsoring legislation to overhaul the service, including allowing it to cancel some Saturday delivery. Mikulski and Cardin have joined more than two dozen lawmakers in an effort to change that legislation.

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Republican who represents Talbot, Dorchester, Caroline and Wicomico counties in the General Assembly, said it would be a "devastating blow" to the Eastern Shore if the Easton plant closes. But he noted that the issue is in the hands of Washington.

"We can't afford to lose any employment," he said.

Larry Poore, owner of a printing company in St. Michaels called the Poore House, shakes his head as he recounts the debate for and against closing the facility. If mailing a letter — or thousands of letters — becomes less convenient, he thinks more people will just do their business online.

And that, he said, would exacerbate one of the mail service's underlying problems.

"It's going to be slower and costlier," said Poore, 52. "And people are just going to quit using the post office."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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