Wire theft is short-circuiting Nanaimo’s sports fields and other parks facilities.
Merle Logan Field, Nanaimo Ice Centre and the sports fields at Nanaimo District Secondary School have had copper wire stripped from electrical boxes and lamp standards, which has taken the better part of a week for electrical contractors and City of Nanaimo workers to perform repairs.
Most of the thefts happened overnight July 4.
“At the NIC, they stripped all the wires in the lights in the parking lot,” said Al Britton, city manager of parks operations. “I haven’t got the total bill yet, but the bill keeps climbing. Right now I’m at $7,500 because, what happened was, they clipped them far up, so we actually had to remove the poles, bring them down and re-thread them all.”
Wiring in underground conduits between lamp standards at NDSS Community Field was also stolen, along with wires to the scoreboard and fibre-optic lines, adding about another $10,000 in damages.
“We’ve had 34 boxes that had to be either fixed or modified,” Britton said.
Those expenses don’t include anti-theft measures being taken to deter further theft. Britton has also hired guards to watch over the properties at night for the week the repairs were made to prevent thieves from returning to strip the wires that were just installed.
“The week prior to that, Merle Logan was hit, so we had about $4,500 worth of wire stolen at Merle Logan,” Britton said.
He said the repair bill will likely top $20,000, not including additional costs to repair wire theft on the Vancouver Island Exhibition grounds that occurred overnight Wednesday.
Britton said guards will be maintained there too.
Graffiti, particularly at May Richards Bennett Pioneer Park, has also been happening almost nightly.
“So I’ve had to add a static guard there, as well,” Britton said.
Britton said his normal annual budget for theft and vandalism is about $50,000 and he usually has about $10,000 to $20,000 of it left over at the end of the year. Last year, theft and vandalism tallied more than $150,000, but that figure also included costs of cleaning up homeless camps and the tent city at 1 Port Dr., which was lumped into his operating budget.
Britton said his budget for theft and vandalism this year was blown by mid April and 2019 is the worst year for wire theft and vandalism in Nanaimo’s parks that he and parks maintenance workers have seen.
“The wire theft and all that is definitely getting worse,” Britton said. “This is the hardest I’ve seen hit, ever, since I’ve been here. I’ve never seen more theft to this extent in my 36 years of being here. We used to get the odd one here or there – maybe a couple, two or three times a year – but literally it’s two or three times a month now.”
As repairs are made, theft countermeasures are being applied. For instance, lamp standard and utility box service covers, that could once be opened with a screwdriver, are now welded shut and low-salvage-value aluminum wire is replacing copper at theft sites and in new installations. The theft deterrents appear to be working.
David Myles, city manager of roads and traffic services, said the city started using aluminum wire in 2017. The idea came from Raylec Power, an electrical contractor.
“Our contractor, Raylec also has the contract for the highways,” Myles said. “They’d mentioned to us that’s what they were doing with highways, was putting aluminum in instead of copper, and it seemed to curb it a bit.”
Myles said it appears the city is achieving results similar to what Raylec experienced. Company representatives have yet to make comment.
Throughout 2018, the highest year on record for wire theft, the city lost about $80,000, but in 2019 up until the end of May, the figure for loss stood at $7,967.
Myles cautioned claiming a resounding success might be premature, but areas wire thieves struck multiple times are being left alone.
“It’s like the word’s out on the street, ‘Don’t even go there. It’s aluminum wire now,’” he said.
Myles said he thinks there are two kinds of thieves. Those who don’t understand how lighting system circuits work and so tend to snip out small amounts of wire to get enough money to buy drugs, and those who understand the wiring, bring appropriate equipment and cause much more damage.
“They’ll go in the day before … and they’ll cut the wire,” he said. “Then they’ll have a van with a reel in the back and they can bring in one or two blocks of wire just like that, close the doors and off they go.”