Fort Howard residents got a relieving piece of news in the mail Wednesday as they opened their mailboxes at the small Baltimore County community’s post office, which was slated to close indefinitely after Friday and force them to commute to Dundalk to get their mail.
The Postal Service’s lease of the small facility was extended for an additional month, postponing the closure until Oct. 14, the yellow letters from the postmaster said.
Because there is no mail delivery service in Fort Howard, the neighborhood’s population has picked up its mail from PO boxes housed at the office on Howard Avenue. A few months ago, the Postal Service told residents that the location would close after its Friday business hours. Their mailboxes would be moved to the Dundalk-Sparrows Point Post Office, an 8-mile trip from Fort Howard.
“To have to go two ZIP codes away for mail. That’s unacceptable,” said Jessica Hammonds, who has lived in Fort Howard for about seven years and has been working with other neighbors to push the Postal Service to come up with a plan.
The round-trip commute between the two post offices, a drive through Sparrows Point and across Bear Creek, is just under 40 minutes. And when it comes to getting mail on time, the Dundalk post office has a poor reputation.
Federal representatives requested an audit of several Baltimore-area mail facilities in 2021 following persistent complaints of poor mail service, particularly at the Dundalk post office. Postal Service officials concluded the Dundalk location had failed to report any of the over 163,000 delayed pieces of mail found at the facility, and had more missing item inquiries than any of the the other eight facilities audited, a rate over six times the national average.
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The end of the nearest mail delivery route in Sparrows Point, which shares with Edgemere the ZIP code 21219, is just under 700 feet from the parking lot of the post office in Fort Howard — 21052.
The Postal Service described the upcoming suspension of service in Fort Howard as “temporary” about a month ago in a news release, but did not say how long it would last. The area’s congressional delegation wrote to the postmaster general asking about the long-term plan for Fort Howard. Two days before the expected closure, Fort Howard residents were notified of the extra month, which a post office spokesperson also confirmed Wednesday.
“A one-month extension is positive, but it is not a long-term solution, which is sorely needed,” the area’s three Democratic federal lawmakers — Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin as well as Rep. Kweisi Mfume — said in a joint statement.
While appreciative of the extra month of service, Hammonds hopes the postal service will choose to extend the Sparrows Point delivery route to include the remote community of fewer than 200 houses — either by delivering to clusters of mailboxes or to each residence. Otherwise, she and her neighbors hope to see a definite timeline for a new local post office. Most of all, she just wants to know before hers closes next month.
Sitting at the mouth of the Patapsco River, across Old Road Bay from the sprawl of warehouses that have replaced the behemoth Bethlehem Steel mill, Fort Howard is a waterfront community with a small collection of households. It takes just over 10 minutes to walk from the north end of the residential area to the south end, the entrance to Fort Howard Park.
About 430 residents lived in Fort Howard during the last U.S. census. Tuesday was Defenders’ Day, a state holiday recognizing the defense of Baltimore from invading British forces who landed at Fort Howard over two centuries ago. After the War of 1812, the small community on the south end of North Point Road became the site of a key U.S. military installation and Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. Both are defunct.
The Postal Service used to release a document showing the annual rent it pays for each of the over 25,000 facilities it leases. In 2016, the federal mail agency reported paying an annual rent of $10,450 for the 992 square feet it uses in Fort Howard. That 10-year lease ended in 2018; the Postal Service stopped making that information public in 2017.