For some stranded U.S. adventurers, rescues come at a cost
By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - After an all-terrain vehicle accident in the Utah desert last spring, 53-year-old Mikki Babineau expected a long recuperation for collapsed lungs and 18 broken ribs.
What the Idaho woman didn't expect was a $750 bill from the local Utah sheriff's office for sending a volunteer search and rescue unit to her aid, a service for which the sheriff in that county regularly charges fees.
Just a handful of states, including Oregon, Maine and Babineau's home state of Idaho, have laws authorizing local agencies to bill for rescues when factors such as recklessness, illegal activity or false information led to the predicament.
Lawmakers from the Rockies to the Appalachians periodically question why adventurers who incur costs should not have to pay the price - literally. That debate has heated up this year as legislators in at least two states have sought, so far unsuccessfully, to enact laws to allow fees for rescues.
"In the rare case where a person took unnecessary risks, that person should be sent a bill," said Wyoming Republican Representative Keith Gingery, who tried but failed to pass such a law in his state.
That few states currently allow such billing is chiefly due to objections by national search and rescue groups, who say the prospect of payment could prompt people to delay seeking needed aid, possibly making a dangerous situation worse.
But that has not stopped lawmakers from considering such laws. Legislators in New Hampshire, for example, are seeking to shore up search and rescue funds by establishing fees ranging from $350 to $1,000.
That legislation, designed to address deficits in a state rescue fund paid through licensing of hunters, snowmobilers and other outdoor recreationists, is pending before a New Hampshire House committee. Continued...