By Greg Campbell, FACE THE STATE
Larimer County Natural Resources Director Gary Buffington thought he had found an efficient way of notifying residents living near the north shore of Horsetooth Reservoir of an upcoming construction project that would bring heavy truck traffic to the area: Get a county staffer to stuff the notices into residents’ mailboxes, 50 of which are lined up in a neat and easy-to-access row along County Road 25G. It seemed like the perfect time- and cost-saving solution, except for one detail—it was illegal.
“It’s a violation of federal law, depositing items on or into mailboxes for which there is no postage,” said Al DeSarro, spokesman for the Western Region of the U.S. Postal Service. “People cannot use postal access (to distribute) information or fliers without using the regular mail system. … Violators, upon prosecution and conviction, can receive for each offense—each mail piece deposited—a fine of up to $300 per piece. It would be pretty expensive.”
Although he’s not likely to be prosecuted, Buffington is still paying for the illegal mailing through public mea culpas. The notices were stuffed in mailboxes Friday afternoon. By Monday morning, Buffington was busy writing apologies to irate residents who’d called or e-mailed the county to complain.
“I certainly agree that the notification process to inform the neighbors of this operation was truly flawed,” Buffington wrote in one e-mail. “Please except (sic) my apology for using your postal mailbox for this purpose. We have contacted the postal service and assured them that this will never happen again.”
Compounding the problem—and residents’ ire—was that the notices erroneously listed the start date of the construction project as Monday. Considering that many residents didn’t get the notices until after business hours Friday, they had no time to call and voice concern about plans to move some 330 truck-loads of soil along their main road as part of a beach improvement project at the reservoir. The operation isn’t actually slated to start until next week.
The feds are likely satisfied that Buffington is now familiar with Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1725, “Postage Unpaid on Deposited Mail Matter,” and probably won’t re-offend.
“What we usually do when we hear of a case like this is our postal inspectors, our law enforcement unit, usually contact that entity, or representative of that organization, and let them know, ‘Hey, you can’t do this,’” DeSarro said. “Usually that’s enough.
“We usually don’t have any problem with the person stopping it after they’re warned.”
Buffington didn’t return a phone call from FTS seeking comment.