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Economic and dam related articles

Metal Parts Taken from Salmon Pens

by Erik Robinson
The Columbian, June 8, 2007

Even a nonprofit fish conservation organization apparently is not immune to the growing problem of metal thievery.

Thieves made off with aluminum components of a net pen used by the salmon conservation organization Fish First on the North Fork of the Lewis River. The incident occurred sometime between 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Wednesday, when volunteers discovered two of the pens floating free in the North Fork and tubes of aluminum framing scattered around the Echo Park area six miles east of Woodland.

"It looked like they used a hacksaw," said Dan Balch, a board member for the Woodland-based organization. "We figured it was probably druggies that stole the aluminum."

The group released 60,000 summer steelhead from the pens a month ago, so they were empty when the thieves struck. Balch said the volunteers will be able to reconstruct the pens, although they will have to replace one 24-foot-long aluminum pipe in time for the arrival of the next group of 75,000 hatchery-raised spring chinook smolts, likely in November, from Merwin Fish Hatchery.

The pens provide an aquatic way station between the close confines of the hatchery and the open river.

Spending a few months or weeks in the pens imprints the ocean-bound smolts so that they return to the North Fork as catchable adults after spending two to four years in the ocean. Fish First has worked in conjunction with state-operated hatcheries to provide 16 net pens on the North Fork since 1996.

Relatively high metal prices appear to be driving the spate of metal thefts over the past several months.

In October, a man cut his way into a fenced-off Clark Public Utilities power station near La Center in a bid to steal copper wiring. He was electrocuted.

Last week, thieves took metal piping worth more than $15,000 from two construction sites in Ridgefield. Over the weekend, a Bonneville Power Administration security guard and Clark County sheriff's deputies arrested John R. Escarcega, 34, inside a fenced storage area at the BPA's Ross Complex in Hazel Dell.

The Ross substation distributes electricity generated as close as PacifiCorp's Lewis River dams to as far away as McNary Dam near Umatilla, Ore. Clipping the wrong wire could turn a body into a receptacle for 13,800 volts of hair-raising, skin-charring energy.

"If someone tries to get that copper, they're going to end up a crispy critter," John McGhee, chief safety officer for the BPA, told The Columbian last fall.

Erik Robinson
Metal Parts Taken from Salmon Pens
The Columbian, June 8, 2007

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