Rescues could be billed
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: November 27, 2012
Finding yourself in trouble in the backcountry could be expensive if the Legislature approves a measure to be proposed by Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson.
Gingery is working on a bill to allow law enforcement officials to charge backcountry users if they land in trouble and need to be rescued.
The legislation was prompted by an episode last winter in which snowmobilers had to be rescued from Togwotee Pass. Teton County paid nearly $14,000.
Members of the Wyoming Search and Rescue Council, which reimburses counties for such expenses, told Gingery to get the snowmobilers to pay some of the cost of saving them. But when Gingery, who works as the county’s chief deputy attorney, went to the snowmobilers, he ran into a roadblock.
“They hired an attorney who basically said, ‘Under what authority are you asking for payment?’ ” Gingery said.
Determining exactly who would be required to pay and how much they would be charged probably won’t be outlined in the legislation, Gingery said.
“It will be left up to the discretion of the sheriff,” he said. “They’ll say which ones are victims or whether someone may have contributed to the situation.”
The search and rescue council reviews claims submitted to them by search and rescue teams across the state.
To be reimbursed, county officials must show that the costs are associated with a specific mission and the costs already have been paid by the county.
The council meets once a year to review claims. In May, at their most recent meeting, the council approved $185,690 in claims, said member Suzie Kirvinskee, office manager for the Teton County Sheriff’s Office.
At the end of October, the council had $671,000 on hand, she said.
The council collects money from donations and from fees imposed on hunting and fishing licenses, snowmobile registrations and state park permits.
Gingery’s bill would help rescue budgets and also create some accountability, Kirvinskee said.
Though many rescues deal with accidents, some are necessary only because of poor decisions, she said.
“A lot of it is about accountability,” she said. “There are plenty of people who go out and think they can handle any situation and they can’t.”