SKAMANIA, Wash. (KOIN) — Skamania County has a population of 11,000, and a small sheriff’s department to match. But, that doesn’t mean it’s like Mayberry.
“Typically we may have only 2 or 3 deputies working at a time, and to take one of them away or 2 of them away to help or assist on a rescue like this, is impacting services to the rest of the taxpayers,” Sheriff Dave Brown tells KOIN 6 News.
A very steep rockclimbing wall along SR-14, nicknamed the Ozone Wall, is an especially troubling area. Last week, a Beaverton man needed to be rescued after falling about 25 feet. On May 1, a man died after falling near a guardrail in the area, and back in April, a 54-year-old man from Portland died after falling 50 feet.
Brown says there have been about 10 similar rescues in that spot in the past few months, and he just can’t afford the manpower for the rescues.
“I would say 90-plus percent of our searches and rescues in this county are for non-residents.”
Brown says his department is dwindling because of budget cuts. He is down 7 deputies from 2011, yet they average 70 calls a year for rescues on National Forest Service land.
The cost for search and rescue operations can range from $50 an hour per deputy to $15 an hour for a volunteer, according to the sheriff.
Brown says people can help by avoiding the Ozone Wall, especially if they are novices. But experienced climbers like Jutta Reichardt say all climbers need to follow proper steps and procedures.
“I wouldn’t call it an unsafe place, it just can happen everywhere.”