Mail delivery finally came Monday to a west-side housing development after a two-month search for a private contractor by the U.S. Postal Service that even included posting a query on Craigslist.

The Postal Service's hunt to outsource delivery for about 190 addresses north of Beaverton is part of what critics believe is a worrisome trend toward privatization.

They question the security of a federal agency seeking the lowest bidder to handle the responsibility of delivering sensitive items such as prescription drugs, utility bills and replacement debit cards.

"It's important to preserve the U.S. Postal Service as the nation's universal mail provider and not be tempted by risky privatization plans," says U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Branch 82 of the National Association of Letter Carriers is planning an informational picket at 5 pm Thursday, March 15 at the Beaverton post office (4550 SW Betts Ave.) to protest the decision to outsource delivery in the Arbor Parc development north of Sunset Highway.

Union officials are also planning to file a formal grievance against the decision by Beaverton Postmaster John Lee to contract for mail delivery in the development. And Branch 82 president L.C. Hansen predicts the privatization of delivery will move from suburban developments, like Arbor Parc in the Bethany area, to infill housing in Portland.

The Postal Service views outsourcing as a good way to save money, as presidential appointees to the Postal Service's board of governors have pushed hard for more cost-cutting.

In a Jan. 29 letter to the union, Lee wrote that he expected to save $33,878 a year by outsourcing mail service to Arbor Parc.

"As we're establishing more delivery in these really high-growth areas all over the country, they're looking at establishing contract delivery," says Kerry Jeffrey, a spokesman for the Postal Service's Portland district, which includes Beaverton.

"There may be some other parts of the country where they're being very aggressive," Jeffrey says. "But...we're just looking at new deliveries as they come online."

Paul Price, national business agent for the letter carriers union, says there have been security breaches with outsourcing, including an instance in Florida where a felon was awarded a delivery contract using his 12-year-old son's name.

Jeffrey refused to identify the contractor for Arbor Parc but could not point to any rule that precludes disclosing that information. The Craigslist posting said applicants had to be 21, have an acceptable driving record and be financially responsible. Jeffrey says contractors also go through a criminal background check.

About 900 of the 200,000 addresses in Washington County receive delivery service from private contractors. Similar numbers weren't immediately available for Multnomah County.

Arbor Parc resident Mike Montague doesn't like the idea of "any old person" delivering mail to his $300,000 townhouse.

"You can trust the [Postal Service] guys to not rustle through your stuff,"' says Montague, who before Monday had to make a 10-minute drive to the post office at least twice a week to pick up his mail. "It's kind of a sacred service."

Drew Von Bergen, spokesman for the letter carriers union, says contractors have been used nationwide since the 1970s to deliver mail to remote locations. But Von Bergen says it was employed only rarely, when a traditional mail route didn't make sense because it was "on top of a mountain or something."

As Metro designates another 800 acres of rural land within the urban growth boundary to be developed into homes, opponents of outsourcing delivery fear those new suburbs will get contract delivery that was once reserved for the most rural parts of America. "If they choose to do it for Arbor Parc, there's another Arbor development coming along," says Mary Manseau, chairman of a Washington County planning committee that serves Bethany. "And then there's the other 800 acres after that."