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Locals ponder rural post office closures

As the U.S. Postal Service strives to tighten its belt by closing small post offices around the country, including some in Wyoming, those patrons ponder the consequences.

Earlier this month, the service announced it lost $10 billion this fiscal year.

Across the nation, there are 3,650 post offices being studied for possible closure, including 44 in Wyoming, said David Rupert, U.S. Postal Service spokesman in Denver Tuesday morning.

If the Postal Service scrapped Saturday deliveries, it could save $3.5 billion, Rupert said earlier. However, even with those savings, the service would continue pursuing small post office closures, but with less urgency.

One of the post offices under consideration for closure is in Deaver.

It’s late morning on Tuesday as customers trickle in to collect their mail and Deaver Postmaster Norm Altman completes paperwork.

The Deaver post office was notified Oct. 20 that it could be closed. Other Big Horn Basin post offices on the potential chopping block are Otto, Hyattville, Emblem and Byron.

People park outside, walk through the door and invariably chat with the Altman before grabbing their mail from post office boxes arranged on the wall like tiny doors in a multi-story apartment complex.

Wade McFarlane of Deaver pops in to shoot the breeze with Altman, then works the combination on his post office box. He opposes closing the post office.

“It probably wouldn’t affect me that much, but it might other businesses,” McFarlane said.

McFarlane is waiting for the ax to fall. “Even if they say they won’t do it, they’re going to make up their minds to do it anyway,” he said.

Judy Wambeke doesn’t want a mailbox. “We like the post office,” she said.

Adjacent to the post office boxes, official notices, characteristic of federal facilities everywhere, are on display. Other notices are not so formal, such as a homey, handmade poster announcing a Halloween party. This local flyer requires no postage, but it informs the community just the same.

Likewise at the Byron post office, handbills are thumb-tacked to the bulletin board. Again, a sign reminds Byron residents of a Halloween party, inviting all.

“It’s kind of a hub of our community,” said Vicki Gibson, town of Byron clerk/treasurer, describing the local post office.

Rupert said he did not know when the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission would make a decision on Byron’s future.

Gibson said from her Town Hall office that she was expecting a decision within a week or so.

The public has a right to appeal a decision to close post offices.

Kebyn O’Mara of Byron stops in to visit for a minute, then checks her box, with her dog, Teddy Bear, attached to a retractable leash.

The community bulletins catch everyone’s eye.

“I think it’s disgraceful,” O’Mara said. “You get a better response in the post office.”

Although Kaitee Pilcher lives in Lovell, she uses a post office box in Byron because it costs less than a Lovell box, she said.

“I just hope they don’t close it down,” Pilcher said.

Outside, Old Glory snaps to attention in a light breeze as cars pass on Main Street. Inside, a man opens his mailbox. He collects his letters and snaps his box shut with an audible metallic snick.

Robin Barclay stops by to visit and mail a package before checking her box.

“I think it would be devastating to this community,” Barclay said.

Barclay has no checking account, so she pays her bills with money orders she purchases at the post office. Some of her medicine also arrives via the mail, she said.

The Lovell post office is less than 10 miles from Byron, but the distance could be a hardship for some, many of whom are retirees.

“I would be lost without the post office, and so would most of my family,” Barclay said.

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