Copper and salvage metal thefts are rampant in the Sea to Sky corridor, said Sgt. Wayne Pride of the Squamish RCMP, despite recent provincial government legislation to target scrap metal and copper transactions.
The law targeting metal thieves — a first in Canada — passed last November and requires dealers to record details of every transaction and then report them to police. Those selling metals often targeted by thieves will need to present identification to scrap purchasers who can share this information with police by court order. It will come into force this July.
Pride says there has been at least one copper theft reported per week to the Squamish detachment — some weeks there are upwards of three reports.
A string of thefts have occurred in the first months of this year alone targeting the Ashlu Creek hydro plant, the Woodfibre Mill, several BC Hydro substations and the West Coast Railway Museum.
Ken Tanner, general manager of the West Coast Railway Museum, said the Feb. 28 theft involved people illegally penetrating the fence surrounding the property, and cutting significant amounts of copper wiring from operational rail cars, disabling them in the process.
"We are repairing them frantically, if you will, trying to get them back in operation," Tanner said, adding that these rail cars are a critical part of their summer programming, including Thomas the Tank Engine and the Rocky Mountaineer train.
"So these were operational units and it's very disappointing that someone took the wiring that disabled those trains in the process."
Tanner said he anticipates that the trains will be repaired in time for the summer activities at the museum.
"It's an unexpected expense," he said, noting that the non-profit organization has asked for donations to assist with the repair costs.
The cost of the copper is approximately $5,000, plus the labour to replace the copper.
"When you add the cost of replacing the copper itself plus the cost of the security upgrades, which will exceed the cost of the copper, I am sure," he said.
Tanner said they have responded by upgrading the security at the site in order to "sway that type of behaviour."
Pride said the Squamish RCMP is working closely with other agencies on this important issue. "We regularly liaise with CN police and BC Hydro, as well as various other groups here and outside the community."
He added that they have people of interest who are on their radar.
"We're putting the appropriate resources into trying to identify these thieves. Recently we have identified some suspects and will be charging them in relation to a recent theft."
With copper prices over $3 per pound, it's a tempting target for thieves looking for easy money, said Pride, however, some amateurs have actually put their lives at risk in the process.
"It's a very serious concern, not just financially to the companies hit, but there are also health and safety concerns ... we've had people seriously injured and killed in prior years."
The provincial law aims to reduce metal theft, including the wholesale plundering of copper telephone lines. Last week thieves hit Telus lines in Delta cutting service to 3,000 people.