State officials agreed Monday to reimburse the Cedar Rapids fire department nearly $10,462 for costs incurred when an emergency response team was dispatched in May to rescue an Illinois man who was pinned for more than 20 hours deep in a cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park in northeast Iowa.
The Iowa Executive Council voted 3-0 to approve the transfer requested by the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division. Patrick Hall, the agency’s recovery bureau chief, said the Cedar Rapids unit was dispatched after an incident commander requested assistance from the state May 19.
Emergency efforts were required after park visitors discovered Logan Eliasen and a friend, Emma Thomson, both of Port Byron, Ill., were stuck in Wye Cave on May 18. Several caves exist at the state park, which is four miles northwest of Maquoketa in Jackson County.
Thomson was rescued late that night, but Eliasen was not freed until the next afternoon. Dozens of rescuers worked in three-person shifts to chisel away at rock to free Eliasen, who was about 180 feet into the cave, authorities said. Both Eliasen and Thomson received hospital treatment after the episode.
According to Mark Schouten, administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, initial responding agencies and organizations became fatigued from the overnight operations, and requested the state’s urban search and rescue team’s help in providing specialized resources, personnel and technical expertise in responding to the emergency.
Also Monday, Executive Council members approved a request from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to retain a Washington, D.C., law firm that charges up to $580 per hour to provide special counsel in advising the Iowa Department of Transportation regarding improvements to Interstate highways 80 and 29 that will affect railroads.
Julie Pottorff, deputy attorney general, said the complex project will require relocation of two railroad main lines, the elimination of a rail yard, and a change of rail service providers for railroad shippers. Although the ordinary hourly fees for two expert attorneys are $580 and $530 respectively, Pottorff said the firm has agreed to give the state of Iowa a 5 percent reduction. All attorney fees and costs will be paid from DOT funds, she added.
“It’s really a heavy rate, but out in D.C. those are the types of the rates that we have to deal with to get the expertise that we need,” said State Auditor David Vaudt, one of three council members present who approved the request.
“I think always if you can hire somebody who has the expertise, hopefully their hours are minimized and the service is provided efficiently in that manner. But regretfully, we continue to see very high fees,” Vaudt added. He said that is especially true in the nation’s capital, where attorney fees are much higher than in Iowa, where the top hourly rate usually are in the $200-$300 range.