Some people who live in one of Miami Beach’s most exclusive enclaves haven’t received mail in weeks, aggravating residents and city commissioners who wonder why the United States Postal Service might be able to weather rain, heat and snow but apparently not a one-way street.
Earlier in the year, Hibsiscus Island residents in the local homeowners association voted to make Hibiscus Drive one way to facilitate placing their power lines underground. The switch happened about six months ago. About six weeks ago, more than three dozen inland properties — on the left side of the street — stopped getting mail.
The reason? Mail carriers can only deliver to homes on the right side of the street. They are not allowed to cross the narrow street under a policy the USPS created “out of an abundance of caution.”
“The temporary suspension of delivery to some residents in the area was out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of both postal employees and the public,” said Debra J. Fetterly, a spokeswoman for the USPS. “We apologize for any inconvenience that may have been experienced by customers living in this community.”
With mail no longer landing inside mailboxes for 46 households, residents are either picking up their mail at the post office at 1300 Washington Ave., or they’ve agreed to pick up their mail at the guardhouse at the entrance to Hibiscus Island.
The inconveniences turned into complaints at City Hall, which inspired some sharp critiques from elected officials and administrators at the Sept. 11 City Commission meeting.
“The word ‘service’ has come out of the postal service, I guess.” said City Manager Jimmy Morales. “That’s my take on it.”
Administrators said they are working with the USPS to reach a solution, which could include the installation of “cluster boxes,” the kind of grouped mailboxes you’d find at an apartment complex or condo, or by encouraging homeowners to move their mailboxes across the street.
“This is ridiculous,” said Commissioner John Elizabeth Aleman, at the meeting.
Matthew Balch, a retired 67-year-old who’s lived on Hibiscus Island for 35 years, said he stopped getting his mail six to eight weeks ago. He asked his neighbors if they’d gotten mail and quickly pieced together that while the wealthier waterfront homes had no issues, the inland homes were all missing their mail.
“I asked [the letter carrier], ‘Why didn’t you give us any notice?’ and she said, ‘Because we can’t go on the other side of the street,’ “ he said.
He said his letter carrier shrugged when he asked why she stopped making the extra four steps across the street to his mailbox, so he tried to ask the postmaster. No response. A supervisor at the post office where he had to pick up his mail told him it was a “public safety issue.”
“It was really untenable to me to drive over to the Washington Avenue post office, spend $3 to park, walk a few blocks and stand in line,” he said. “There’s a lot of elderly people who can’t even drive. What are they supposed to do — take a taxi to the post office?”
After a few weeks of that, the letter carrier agreed to drop off the mail at the guard shack at the entrance to the islands. It’s a temporary solution, Balch said. Better than hunting for parking near Washington Avenue, worse than simply getting his mail in his mailbox, the way he had been the first four months the road became one way.
When the road initially switched six months ago — part of renovations the street received to make it more resilient to rising seas — Balch said he got a notice in the mail asking him to move his mailbox across the street. The head of the island’s homeowners association told him to ignore the notification because they were still working with the post office.
Balch said he did talk to his neighbors about moving his “fairly cheapo mailbox” next to their fancy one.
“Mine wouldn’t look good next to their designer one,” he said. “They said they could order me one.”
Fetterly, the USPS spokeswoman, said the postal service appreciates customers’ patience as the issue gets resolved.
“Customers are reminded that, if they need assistance with mailing or shipping concerns, they have a variety of options for reaching us, including contacting a supervisor or manager at their local Post Office, calling 1-800-ASK-USPS [1-800-275-8777] or visiting our website at www.usps.com/help,” she said.