A substantial theft of copper wire between China Creek and Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island forced BC Hydro to cut power to 88 homes on the remote Ditidaht First Nation reserve.
The theft is a very dangerous crime that puts the public and Hydro crews at significant risk.
On Thursday, March 14 a BC Hydro crew responding to a service call at Ditidaht discovered a substantial amount of copper wire had been stolen off approximately 300 utility poles. Copper ground wire conductors were ripped off the poles along a 62-kilometre line, BC Hydro community relations manager Ted Olynyk said. Port Alberni RCMP are also investigating the theft.
Power was cut to the entire community at 5 p.m. Friday and was thought to be reconnected by 5 p.m. on Saturday but after the crews —approximately 35 people — worked a 12 hour shift the community was still without power. “It was a very difficult decision on our part,” Olynyk said about de-energizing the community. “It is not something we like to do. Safety is No. 1 for us because we’re dealing with electricity.”
BC Hydro won’t know the extent of the damage to the China Creek line or the cost of replacing all the lines until at least after Sunday.
“We’re still determining the severity of the problem. Tomorrow (Saturday) our crews will be on site doing repairs and we’ll have a better idea of the extent to the damage of our system.
“Right now we’re trying to make it safe.”
The theft was discovered after BC Hydro crews responded to a call from Ditidaht about kids getting shocked after touching a fence, Olynyk said. Crews fixed that problem but in the process realized the ground wire was cut to a nearby pole. Further examination uncovered more poles with severed wires.
A community member commented that at first, kids were making a game of it (touching the fence) and that the maintenance man couldn’t close the gate.
Olynyk said people in the community noticed about a month ago that things weren’t right, like the fence causing shocks, but no one called until Thursday.
“We’re lucky this didn’t cause any serious injuries to a member of the public or to our crews,” Olynyk said.
The copper ground wires are buried in the ground beneath each hydro pole and run up the poles to the hydro wires. Copper is the best conduit for grounding wires, which is why they are widely used, Olynyk explained.
“We briefly turned the power back on to the community on Saturday evening to do tests and to let the community refuel their generators, heat their water and cool their refrigerators.” said BC Hydro crew foreman Jeff Stites.
Nitinat River hatchery was slated to have their power shut down for approximately one hour on Sunday afternoon while BC Hydro worked further on the lines.
“It won’t impact the hatchery too much,” said hatchery manager Rob Brouwer.
“We have diesel powered back-up generators to provide electricity and keep our pumps and equipment going.”
Olynyk has seen some brazen thefts in his time, but says he thinks this theft may be unprecedented. In January 2012, the Capital Region in Victoria was hit with several large thefts of underground copper grounding wire, including 5,000 pounds from Langford.
The provincial government enacted the Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act in July 2012 in an attempt to deter and track metal thieves. Olynyk said BC Hydro supports the new law, “but we’ve had instances where people try to use chainsaws to cut down a pole. They go to a lot of extremes to get copper wire.”
BC Hydro crews will be replacing the usual copper wiring with a steel based wire that is virtually worthless to thieves.
The community was re-energized at approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 17.
Port Alberni RCMP members are seeking the public’s assistance as part of their investigation, Const. Shelly Schedewitz said in a press release.
“If anyone witnessed this crime, or can provide information about it, they are asked to contact the local detachment at 723-2424, or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS,” she said.
—Susan Quinn, Alberni Valley News
and Lake Cowichan Gazette