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Senate bill filed to impose $3 overnight-stay fee for SAR operations

February 02, 2011
CONCORD — A bill has been introduced that would result in surplus fees charged to those who stay in hiking club accommodations. The fee would be designated to fund state Fish and Game Department search and game rescue operations.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester and Sen. John Gallus of Berlin along with Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett and Rep. Paul Mirski of Enfield, all Republicans, have introduced a Senate bill that seeks to establish a $3 fee on the rent charged to occupy sleeping accommodations of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Randolph Mountain Club (RMC). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider the bill that would apply to AMC and RMC lodges, huts, camps, and cabins.

Both clubs would be required to forward collected fees to the Fish and Game Executive Director no later than the 14th of each month and to report the names and addresses of all persons to whom a hiker fee has been charged. Penalties could be imposed for undue delay and/or a bond could be required to secure the fee payments.

The bill seeks to amend the existing law that requires that $1 fee be collected on each private boat and snowmobile that must registered. These fees are used for search and rescue operations, including but not limited to salaries, training, equipment, and associated expenditures. The Fish and Game Department reports quarterly to the legislative Fiscal Committee on how it spends these funds.

If the bill passes as proposed, it would go into effect on July 1.

Fish and Game Department states that this bill would generate state restricted revenues by $270,447.

The AMC reports an average number of "bed nights" of 86,785 a year, while the RMC reports an average of 3,364, making a total of some 90,149 bed nights a year. 

There would be some new costs incurred, however. The Department notes that the requirement to provide lodgers' names and addresses would create a demand on its data entry capabilities of the Department as well as a need for data base design services from the Department of Information Technology, the cost of which it cannot estimate.

The RMC now charges $12 a night for hikers to stay at either RMC Gray Knob or RMC Crag Camp, both enclosed camps on the side of Mt. Adams.

"What is really disappointing with this proposal, besides the 25 percent tax on our guests, is the requirement that all fee money collected needs to be deposited to Fish and Game on the 14th day of every month, and that we will be required to submit to the state the names and addresses of all the guests from whom we have collected the fee," explained RMC board president John Scarinza of Randolph in an e-mail exchange. The Club uses its fees to pay for camp upkeep and caretaker salaries.

AMC senior vice president Walter Graff, also of Randolph, and AMC policy director Susan Arnold both explained that they understand and recognize that the state Fish and Game Department has trouble funding its search and rescue operations but that both RMC and AMC are part of the solution in that their employees and members provide substantial volunteer search and rescue assistance throughout the year. AMC estimates that its yearly collective contribution totals about 650 hours.

Both Graff and Arnold noted that charging fees on overnight stays unfairly discriminates against those who spend the night in Club facilities and believe that requiring the names and addresses of guests at Club facilities could well be unconstitutional.

Graff, Arnold, and Scarinza all said that they look forward to discussing the proposal with members of the Legislature.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
Town of Barnsted
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