BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – An effort that started just 12 weeks ago to create a third rescue boat in Lee County has cleared it’s first hurdle.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said Monday that with the help of Crimestoppers, and private donations from all corners of the county, a new rescue boat was ordered Thursday.
The boat, with a price tag just short of $21,000 should be in the Sheriff’s Department’s hands by mid-May to June. Keokuk Volunteer Emergency Corp and Fort Madison Fire & Rescue also have boats.
Weber has been wanting to add the rescue craft to the department from his first day in office on Jan. 3, 2017 when Bill White Sr., and Ronald Wagner drowned when their boat capsized just south of Montrose.
The Sheriff said the county is almost surrounded by rivers and also has a large number of bigger lakes and ponds. The department currently has three certified divers and will continue training with Iowa DNR staff on rescues.
The project started in the fall and has quickly gained momentum.
“We started this back in November pushing out the calendars and in the past three months, with help from small businesses, citizens in the community and one little kindergartner, we’re getting closer,” Weber said.
The one little kindergartner is Demspey Wagner, a Central Lee student, who solicited donations, for her 6th birthday. Weber said she’s raised more than $3,000 for the life-saving equipment and is continuing to accept donations until Feb. 15.
Donations can be mailed to: Lee County CrimeStoppers, 2530 255th St.
Montrose, IA 52639, or via Venmo at Erin-Wagner-49 or call the Sheriff’s department for a pickup.
The department is still selling calendars at $25 each with proceeds going to offset costs.
Funds are still needed to purchase the motor for the boat, which will run about $10,000. Weber said he downsized slightly from a 250-horsepower motor to a 200-horsepower and changed the brand to reduce the costs a bit. A side scan SONAR system is also planned for the rescue boat.
An older truck the department had planned on trading in will probably now be kept and attached to the boat, so it will be jump-in-and-go scenario for boat rescues.
The craft is an aluminum flat boat that is long and wide so it can go in the back waters, but strong enough to be out in the open water as well. It will come with a small crane system for lowering divers.
Weber said he had hoped to get the boat in the water in the spring, and with a five-month build and upfitting, he could still make that goal.
“I will be May or June before we get it and we will probably put most of the lights and striping on it ourselves. All the service and maintenance will be done locally,” he said.
Weber said he wedged $12,000 into his budget for next year in case fundraising came up short, but he thinks are looking good at the moment.
“It will be nice when it comes time, if I can go to the Supervisors and say, “Guys, you can scratch that out of the budget.”
Weber, who also looked to CrimeStoppers to help fulfill a campaign promise to bring K9 units to the department, said it’s been incredibly heartwarming to see how people come together for causes.
“It’s fun to watch the people who always seem to be behind us come up big. And then when you have projects like this and you see other people you didn’t know were behind you, it’s like, Whoa!”