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The Associated Press

NEWCASTLE, Wyo. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service plans to close an office of the Black Hills National Forest in Newcastle and move a dozen positions to Custer, S.D. About 30 summer jobs would also be affected.

“The lease on the building in Newcastle expires in November 2003,” said Mike Lloyd, Hell Canyon District ranger. “Our tentative plans are not to renew that lease.”

Two positions would remain, but probably in some other building of the U.S. Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service, officials said.

“It costs us $100,000 a year to maintain that office, with the lease, bills, maintenance. That’s the biggest reason,” Lloyd told the News Letter Journal.

Mayor Mike Mills asked Wyoming’s congressional delegation to get involved.

“If in fact it is more efficient to be in Custer than we understand that,” he said, “but we need to be convinced that it is.”

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., has received some responses to letters sent to Black Hills Forest Supervisor John Twiss, Enzi spokesman Coy Knobel said.

“The senator is currently waiting for another written reply because he wasn’t satisfied with the information provided in the first,” Knobel said.

In his most recent letter, Enzi pointed out that the Custer office was planning a $7 million renovation and wanted to know if that is a factor in the decision to close the Newcastle office.

“He wants to be sure that any move is absolutely justified,” Knobel said. “Any potential job loss in Wyoming is something he wants to prevent if at all possible.”

Lloyd said the Forest Service is concerned about the impact on the community and is conducting an analysis.

The two jobs remaining in Newcastle would be a range conservationist and a visitor information officer, said Lois Ziemann, a spokeswoman for the forest.

A final decision on whether to close the office would have to be made before the end of the lease, but she said she was unsure when it would come.

“We’re sort of taking our time and making sure we talk with all the affected individuals, the governor of Wyoming, the mayors of the towns surrounding Newcastle and Newcastle itself,” she said.

The plan is to allow people to leave Newcastle on their own, either through retirement or transfers, and replace them in Custer, she said.

“Ideally, we would like natural attrition to do what it needs to do,” Ziemann said.

The Custer District in South Dakota and the Elk Mountain District in Wyoming were combined in 1994 but maintained offices in Custer and Newcastle. Last year it was renamed the Hell Canyon District.

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