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Budget Cuts Ground Marine Patrol Boats ‘We Have Boats Just Sitting Out There To Save Gas,’ Officer Says

Sat., July 1, 1995, midnight

Bonner County’s marine deputies aren’t doing much cruising on Lake Pend Oreille this summer. They can’t afford to.

Budget cuts have forced deputies to park their boats and bob in the water instead of patrolling the 43-mile-long lake.

“We have boats just sitting out there to save gas,” said Undersheriff Nick Krager. “We are telling deputies if they don’t see that many boats out to go home and be on call. We just don’t have the funds to keep them out there patrolling like we’re supposed to.”

Some residents say that’s just fine.

They have complained to county commissioners about the expensive marine boats and being hassled with boat inspections. Others have griped deputies are slow to respond when emergencies do happen on the water.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Krager said. “People don’t like us interfering with their fun, but when they are in trouble they are sure glad to see us.”

Bonner County deputies are responsible for patrolling 111,000 acres of water, the most in the state. That includes Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest, the Pend Oreille River, Cocolalla Lake and Priest Lake, a popular summer playground for Washington residents.

Kootenai County ranks a distant second with 44,840 acres of navigable water. Yet Bonner County’s marine patrol budget is only $104,000 compared to Kootenai County’s $210,000.

This year Bonner County commissioners whacked the marine budget by $26,000. More cuts are planned next year to funnel cash to dock and boat ramp improvements.

“It’s tough to strike a balance, but we have more people pulling at us for better facilities than we do for more patrol,” said Commissioner Steve Klatt. “With the ever-increasing number of boaters we need more facilities.”

Marine Cpl. Larry Schulze said that is flawed logic. It doesn’t do any good to build more facilities and bring in more boaters if there isn’t any enforcement on the water. The result will be more accidents, he said.

“It’s a shame. I just hope somebody’s life doesn’t have to pay for this,” Schulze said.

Marine deputies already have run into problems. Several weeks ago three kids, none wearing life jackets, tipped over in a canoe on Lake Pend Oreille and desperately needed help. The accident happened on a weekday when patrols were cut back to save money.

The closest boat was 30 minutes away. Three people walking on Sandpoint’s Long Bridge raced to their own boat a mile away and rescued the kids.

“Sometimes you can boat all day and never see a marine deputy,” Schulze said, adding that patrols were forced to start a month later this year.

“We have too few people for the amount of territory and number of people on the lake.”

Schulze is the only full-time marine deputy. There are five other part-timers who run four boats. The deputies’ salaries and boats are all paid for with grants and money from the state Parks and Recreation Department, which gets its money from boat license fees.

“People like to complain about the expensive boats we drive, but they haven’t cost the taxpayers a cent,” Schulze said.

This is also the first year the county has put a fire boat on the water. Before, burning boats were battled with fire extinguishers.

“The best we could do if it was at a marina was throw an anchor in the boat, tow it away and let it burn,” Schulze said. “We responded to several sinking boats last year and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do. Now we have pumps to throw in the boats and suck the water out.”

The 28-foot fire boat recently was used to ferry rescue crews to an abandoned mine near Lakeview, where two cave explorers died.

Some of the public grumbling is because deputies have beefed up inspections, Schulze said.

The most inspections ever done by the county in the past was 500. Last year Schulze did that many himself, and the marine division logged a total of 2,400. About 60 of those inspections resulted in fines to boaters.

“Last year I was told our budget was going to be less because we never did anything but drive around in glorified boats and enjoy the scenery,” Schulze said. “So we did more inspections than ever before and they cut our budget.”

Commissioner Klatt said the county budgeted according to state Parks and Recreation Department guidelines. Sixty percent of the funding went toward facility improvements and 40 percent to law enforcement.

“I know they work hard and I’m concerned about how the patrols are having to stretch the dollars,” Klatt said. “But they are just going to have to be more creative in scheduling, maybe get some volunteer help and look at boats that are cheaper to operate.”

Schulze said the marine boats likely will be docked before summer is over.

“We will do what we can until we run out of money,” he said. “I predict next year will be a very sorry situation.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: Patrol boats grounded

This sidebar appeared with the story: LAKE PATROLS: BONNER VS. KOOTENAI COUNTIES Bonner County Marine Division One full-time deputy, five seasonal. Patrols 111,000 acres of water. Budget is $104,000 ($14,000 for fuel). Boat inspections by deputies in 1994: 2,200. Boats registered in Bonner County: 14,055. Patrol boats: 4. Lake Pend Oreille: 2 boats. Pend Oreille River: 1 boat. Priest Lake: 1 boat.

Kootenai County Marine Division Two full-time deputies, 10 seasonal. Patrols 44,840 acres of water. Budget is $210,000 ($16,000 for fuel). Boat inspections by deputies in 1994: 2,400. Boats registered in Kootenai County: 21,722. Patrol boats: 7. Lake Coeur d’Alene: 3. Spokane River: 1. East side lakes: 1. West side lakes: 1. Lake Pend Oreille 1 (at Bayview).

IDAHO HEADLINE: Patrol boats grounded

This sidebar appeared with the story: LAKE PATROLS: BONNER VS. KOOTENAI COUNTIES Bonner County Marine Division One full-time deputy, five seasonal. Patrols 111,000 acres of water. Budget is $104,000 ($14,000 for fuel). Boat inspections by deputies in 1994: 2,200. Boats registered in Bonner County: 14,055. Patrol boats: 4. Lake Pend Oreille: 2 boats. Pend Oreille River: 1 boat. Priest Lake: 1 boat.

Kootenai County Marine Division Two full-time deputies, 10 seasonal. Patrols 44,840 acres of water. Budget is $210,000 ($16,000 for fuel). Boat inspections by deputies in 1994: 2,400. Boats registered in Kootenai County: 21,722. Patrol boats: 7. Lake Coeur d’Alene: 3. Spokane River: 1. East side lakes: 1. West side lakes: 1. Lake Pend Oreille 1 (at Bayview).


 
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