By John Branton
The Columbian (Vancouver, WA)
Should the federal government collect $30,000-or help save lost or injured folks in the rugged Columbia River Gorge and Gifford Pinchot National Forest?
Officials with the Bonneville Power Administration chose to help save lives.
Last month in Stevenson, they donated two Polaris-brand all-terrain vehicles to the Skamania County Department of Emergency Medical Services.
Several days earlier, the BPA donated four ATVs to the Skamania County Sheriff's Office.
The surplus ATVs, some with four wheels, some with six, are in good shape and could be auctioned for about $5,000 each, officials said in a bulletin. BPA crews used them to repair electric transmission lines in remote areas and are replacing them with new ones, said spokesman Doug Johnson.
The six donated ATVs will be used in Skamania County for search-and-rescue operations and some criminal investigations.
Undersheriff Dave Cox and deputies, searchers and medics are called out on rescue operations many times a year, typically in steep, hard-to-reach wooded zones in a mountainous area totaling about 2,400 square miles, the bulletin said.
Most of Mount St. Helens, including its summit, is in Skamania County, which extends north nearly to Randle in southern Lewis County.
With budgets tight these days, the sheriff's office couldn't afford to buy such ATVs, Cox said in the bulletin.
"To come into a windfall for something like this is a real blessing," he said.
Besides reaching lost and injured hunters, hikers, sightseers and others, and carrying them to safety, deputies can use the ATVs to find hidden drug labs and marijuana growing operations, Cox said. "It's going to be nice to have those vehicles available to us."
As to the decision to donate the ATVs, "Money from selling the vehicles pales in comparison to helping a local jurisdiction save lives," said Ulrik Larsen with the BPA's Property Disposal Office.
The BPA makes such donations several times a year, including to schools. In December 2009, officials donated a 1979 Bombardier snowcat worth about $15,000 to the volunteer Volcano Rescue Team of North Country Emergency Medical Services, based in Yacolt. The machine, with tracks like a bulldozer and an enclosed cabin, carries four people and is made to access remote areas, including in harsh weather. As of late February, the specialized machine hadn't been used for a rescue yet, but rescuers have used it in training, an official said.
Several agencies had asked for the ATVs, which would delight many a sportsman. Skamania County was considered to have the greatest need for them.
Skamania County is jam-packed with remote wilderness recreational attractions and the dangers that go with them, and its officials and volunteers have helped with many recent searches and rescues, according to The Columbian's files:
On Jan. 2, a 44-year-old Vancouver woman was rescued on Mount St. Helens after her snowmobile rolled onto her and fractured her right leg. A new cellular site played a key role in her rescue, as did 12 members of the Volcano Rescue Team, who used five snowmobiles and a tracked quad vehicle to reach her on a 45-degree slope, said Tom McDowell with North Country EMS.
Skamania County Sheriff's Deputy George Barker was credited with coordinating the rescue.
In December, about 20 searchers in the Columbia River Gorge braved mixed snow, rain and windy conditions as they looked for a missing Gresham, Ore., man whose truck had been found near Beacon Rock. A sheriff's official said he was concerned for the missing man's safety because of the weather.
They searched for two days using several K-9 teams. The effort was eventually suspended.
In October, Skamania County searchers found a deaf 93-year-old mushroom picker from Newberg, Ore., who covered herself with bark and moss to stay warm before she was found near Mount Adams.
It was the second successful rescue of an elderly mushroom picker by Skamania County rescuers in a month. In September, deputies found an 84-year-old Tacoma man after he was missing for two nights in the Randle area.
On July 9, Skamania County Sheriff's Sgt. Arne Gonser, a veteran scuba diver, helped exhausted civilian swimmers in the 58-minute rescue of Kea Rodrigues, 14, who had one leg caught by rocks under a 6-foot waterfall called Lower Dougan Falls, on the upper Washougal River.
The swimmers worked in the strong, frothy, frigid current to hold the boy up so he could breathe. Gonser placed a rope that bystanders heaved on to pull the teen, nearly dead, from the rushing water. Paramedics immediately started performing advanced life support on Kea as they rushed him to a hospital. He survived.