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Last Updated

13 Jan 2003

Source: Associated Press, April 12, 2002.

Anthrax fears hamper search for replacement for Hamilton facility

By LORI HINNANT, Associated Press Writer

HAMILTON, N.J. -- New Jersey postal officials are struggling to lease space for a replacement processing plant because landlords fear the anthrax attacks will be repeated in their buildings, officials said Friday.

The Hamilton processing facility, which was the source of at least four anthrax-laced letters, has been closed since October with little prospect of reopening anytime soon. On Friday afternoon, the front doors remained covered in black plastic.

Trailers have been set up on property behind the closed plant, but postal officials have been working since late last year to lease space for processing equipment.

Mail that would normally be directed through Hamilton is currently farmed out to other processing centers around the state.

A deal to lease space in Cranbury recently fell through after the landlord expressed concern about a repeat attack, officials said, and negotiations are continuing elsewhere.

"There's no guarantees anybody can give," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Postal Service. "We just try to really tell them to the best of our ability what we've experienced, that this hopefully, pray God, was a one-time incident and not something that can be repeated."

The Hamilton processing center, which has been closed since Oct. 18, handles mail for 46 area post offices.

More than 700 postal employees have been displaced by the facility's closing and now must travel to other work sites.

In February, Postmaster General John E. Potter said the Hamilton regional processing center would be decontaminated and employees and customers allowed to return. Officials have said that will happen only after the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, where two workers died, is cleaned.

Cleanup of both post offices is expected to cost about $35 million.

Meanwhile, New Jersey residents who previously had until midnight to mail their income tax returns from Hamilton will have to go elsewhere for their last-minute filing. Trenton's Brunswick Avenue post office will be open until midnight, Quinn said.

About 2.7 million income tax forms have been filed with the state already, and another million are expected in coming days, according to Robert Thompson, director of the state Division of Taxation.

The Hamilton facility handled anthrax-tainted letters sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Sen. Patrick Leahy and the New York Post.

There were five confirmed anthrax infections (cases 4, 11, 12, 13, 18) and two suspected cases (case 3, case 10 was later removed by CDC) in New Jersey. All but one case involved postal workers (case 18), and there were no fatalities.