PORTLAND (AP) – After a two-year delay, the U.S. Postal Service is moving forward with plans to build a sprawling mail-processing plant along the Scarborough-South Portland line.

The center was once courted by the Twin Cities. In October 1999, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it had narrowed its search for the site to either Lewiston or Auburn.

Then, in early December 1999, after protests by postal employees who objected to commuting to Lewiston and by Port City business leaders who abhorred losing the project, Postal Service officials announced they were extending the site search for 90 days in order to consider more sites in the Portland area.

The Scarborough site eventually won out.

The postal project was then put on hold after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but signs of progress have emerged in recent weeks.

Employees at the mail processing plant on Portland’s Forest Avenue were advised that the Postal Service is getting ready to begin construction on the new center. And the agency opened discussions on the project with officials in the two communities.

“We all knew that funds were tight in Washington. There was some question it might not come,” said South Portland Planning Director Charles “Tex” Haeuser.

The new plant, designed to replace the one in Portland, would cover 10 acres and employ more than 800 people.

– Staff Writer Doug Fletcher contributed to this report.

Early estimates pegged the cost at $65 million.

While a postal spokeswoman had no details on whether there is a new time line for construction, a letter last week from the project’s manager to the South Portland Planning Board says work could start this winter.

The Postal Service has been considering a new center since 1996 when a report showed the Portland plant was much too small.

The Scarborough site was chosen in 2000, but the proposal stalled in 2002 due to budget constraints at the Postal Service and the costly cleanup arising from the anthrax scares that followed Sept. 11, 2001.

– Additional information was provided by Staff Writer Doug Fletcher

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