January 31, 2013

Hikers rescued in NH could pay fee under bill

Norma Love / The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. — Hikers and others rescued in New Hampshire's backwoods could pay several hundred dollars in fees to the state to help dig the search and rescue fund out of the red under new legislation.

Anyone rescued who possesses a current hunting, fishing or other outdoors license or buys a new hike-safe card for $18 would not pay the minimum fee. The proposal also would establish a $10 surcharge on fines for fish and game law violations to go into the fund.

The minimum fee facing those rescued would be $350 if the rescue cost between $500 and $999. The fee rises to $600 if the rescue costs between $1,000 and $1,499. For rescues costing more, the fee would be $1,000.

House Republican Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett, Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, are among the high-profile sponsors looking for ways to help pay for searches and rescues besides fees paid by sportsmen.

Hunters, anglers, boaters, snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle riders currently pay 100 percent of the rescue costs though license fees but averaged only 14 percent of the rescues since 2006.

Recent rescue costs ranged from about $200 to more than $50,000. The Department of Fish and Game has been operating the search and rescue account at an average annual deficit since 2006 of more than $100,000.

The agency has recovered some of its rescue costs by billing people determined to be negligent.

A hearing on the proposal is Thursday.

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