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North Swanzey ZIP code dispute goes to Congress

NORTH SWANZEY — Ongoing complaints about mail being delivered to the wrong addresses here have reached the U.S. Senate.

New Hampshire’s U.S. senators — Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, both Democrats — introduced legislation Tuesday that would extend the ZIP code for Swanzey to include North Swanzey, a goal of town officials that the U.S. Postal Service rebuffed earlier this year.

North Swanzey is one of Swanzey’s five villages, and fully incorporated in the town’s borders. But it shares Keene’s ZIP code, 03431, rather than taking the 03446 code used in the rest of Swanzey. The exceptions are the post office boxes in West Swanzey, which have their own ZIP code.

Town officials say the administrative quirk has led to delivery mix-ups and other inconveniences in North Swanzey. The village shares some street names with Keene, Roxbury and Surry, the other communities covered by 03431, though Swanzey selectmen have been working to rename certain streets.

In emailed statements, Shaheen and Hassan pointed to the potential for confusion among mail carriers and first responders as a reason to introduce the bill.

“This is a simple legislative fix that is long overdue and will improve the delivery of public services throughout Swanzey and provide clarity for all Swanzey residents,” Shaheen said.

A spokesman for the Postal Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

Kenneth P. Colby Jr., chairman of the board of selectmen, said he felt “gratitude towards our representatives in Washington,” though added he would remain cautiously optimistic until the bill’s passage, “knowing how Washington operates.”

The legislation was Shaheen’s idea, according to Ryan Nickel, a spokesman for the senator. Hassan is a co-sponsor.

The one-page bill directs the U.S. Postal Service to designate a single ZIP code for all of Swanzey within 180 days of its passage.

Town officials began to mull a change to the North Swanzey ZIP code a few years ago, after state emergency management officials asked the town to change certain street names that could cause confusion, said Colby, who lives in North Swanzey.

State emergency management officials have had longstanding concerns about duplicate addresses and similar-sounding street names in Swanzey, saying they could negatively affect the response of emergency services.

In 2010, Swanzey selectmen signed off on the town’s 911 map that included nine-and-a-half pages of addresses and street names state officials said weren’t in compliance with state addressing standards. They suggested town officials change them. The list identified more than 40 streets that sounded similar.

Last year, selectmen moved forward with a plan to begin renaming those streets, many of which were in North Swanzey. They had hoped to have the ZIP code changed at the same time as the addresses, on Jan. 5 of this year.

However, the Postal Service’s Northern New England District rejected a request by the town to include North Swanzey in 03446.

In a Feb. 3 letter explaining the denial, officials wrote that the Postal Service adjusts ZIP code boundaries only “when there are no viable administrative solutions.”

According to the letter, such solutions did exist in Swanzey — namely, the change in certain street names and the ability of residents to add a “preferred last line” by writing “North Swanzey, N.H., 03431” on their addresses.

Postal Service officials also denied an appeal submitted by the town, according to Colby.

Shaheen and Hassan previously weighed in on the ZIP code issue through an April 27 letter urging Megan J. Brennan, the postmaster general and CEO of the U.S. Postal Service, to gather feedback from North Swanzey residents before deciding the appeal.

Bruce Bohannon, who retired as Swanzey’s emergency management director in September, said in an interview Tuesday that living on a North Swanzey street with the same name and ZIP code as a Keene street can be an inconvenience when dealing with cable companies and other private services that rely on addresses.

But he was not aware of any instances in which North Swanzey’s inclusion in the Keene ZIP code misled emergency personnel, saying it had more to do with street naming.

For example, in 1999, firefighters went to the wrong Grove Street in Swanzey in what became a fatal fire that killed an 8-year-old boy and a neighbor who went in to save the boy’s 5-month-old brother.

A family member of one of the victims filed a lawsuit against the town, and the matter was settled out of court.

After renaming some streets last year, Swanzey selectmen are looking to change others, Colby said.