The Warren County Commissioners reviewed an agreement with the Allegheny National Forest outlining how missing person searches are handled in designated wilderness areas during their work session Monday morning.
"This came out of questions about how we would search for someone in wilderness areas," Commissioner John Eggleston pointed out. "The law says no motorized vehicles can operate there."
Under the agreement, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the national forest system, has the authority to grant permission for usage of motorized vehicles in a wilderness area in the case of a search for missing persons.
Meanwhile, the county sheriff's department is granted the authority over the actual search as the entity overseeing efforts. The sheriff's department's authority includes the ability to regulate volunteer efforts in the search to minimize the chance of untrained individuals compounding the situation.
Initial discussions regarding the agreement were prompted by an actual incident in which a number of individuals were missing, and a search in a wilderness area was required to try to locate them.
The commissioners review the agreement yearly.
"Unless this is in place, you could find yourself unnecessarily encumbered," Commissioner John Bortz said.
Eggleston noted that the "trend nationwide" is to charge rescued individuals for costs incurred by such a search.
"People put themselves at risk in these wilderness areas," Eggleston said, specifically citing individuals who fail to take steps to avoid turning up missing. "Is it really up to the taxpayers to cover these individuals?"
The commissioners also discussed the issue of county emergency management funds, which are used to cover such operations, being more limited than in the past.
It was agreed the issue should be discussed further and broached with the Forest Service.
No specific alternative or additional language was discussed for placement in the agreement to address issues with the cost of searches in wilderness areas.
The commissioners also announced they would be meeting with a local construction company on Monday regarding rehabilitation work in the courthouse basement after recent flooding.
Following an executive session, the commissioners approved Dee Klakamp to the position of county detective.
"Ms. Klakamp will be parsing her responsibilities between the Warren County Sheriff's Office and the Warren County District Attorney," Bortz said. "At this time, there is no additional pay."
He said the district attorney's office would track Klakamp's detective hours and submit that information to the fiscal department "to properly account for the time she spends" in each department.
"It is commendable that Mr. (Rob) Greene (district attorney) and the Sheriff's Department are able to utilize an innovative approach towards resolving this issue - getting a county detective on staff," Bortz added.