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Thieves and Vandals Hit Contractors

Vandals rammed these streamside bollards along Central Oregon's Whychus Creek in 2006. The stream is home to a genetically-isolated subspecies of redband trout.
Photo: U.S. Forest Service

Landscape contractors are going to greater lengths to protect work from thieves and vandals these days. And local officials are seeing increases in construction costs as contractors pass their losses on to taxpayers. It's an increasing problem across the country.

Security patrols, video cameras and hardened enclosure boxes are being used with greater frequency, adding to park spending.

In a sign of the times, vandals in Tucson, Ariz. are hitting parks before they even open.

In Laredo, Texas, the city spent more than $40,000 on vandalized parks equipment in 2006. Vandals ripped up windscreens surrounding a baseball field and looted sprinkler system parts.

Irrigation systems, with valuable brass fittings, are attractive targets for vandal-thieves.

Edward Millan, spokesman for Laredo's parks department, said that part of the irrigation system, 60-pound bronze valves that hold recycled water, were taken three times last summer.

Millan said that aluminum bleachers have also been stolen from parks, and speculated the equipment was eventually sold as scrap metal.

Trees are frequently stolen from Laredo's parks.

As in Laredo, Tucson troublemakers aren't just teenagers running amok with beer and skateboards, but metal thieves with an eye on the brass and copper in irrigation systems and electrical wiring.

"Somewhere down the line, we will be paying for it," said Nancy Cole, an architect with Pima County (Ariz.) Parks and Recreation. "The level of damage seems small but it has a large impact on the timing and the ability to deliver."

Vandals struck and damaged this interpretive sign located along Maryland's Greenbelt Lake. Exposed amenities like signs are designed to be durable, but no outdoor product is vandal-proof.
Photo: Citizens to Conserve and Restore Indian Creek

Vandalism Countermeasures

In the meantime, vandalism at existing parks is at a record high, with spending on repairs expected to double this year.

Parks Operations Manager George Kuck told the Arizona Daily Star in October that the department is considering all its options, including hiring private security and installing cameras. A traditional remedy--lockable boxes for key irrigation components--is becoming standard issue.

In Pima County, thieves clipped off copper grounding wire at the Flowing Wells Community Center construction site and pulled wire from historic buildings at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park. Curtis Park, a new park under construction at North La Cholla Boulevard and West Curtis Road, was hit three times in two weeks.

Vandals smashed a truck window and sprayed a fire extinguisher. Then metal thieves cut all the copper wiring from the irrigation system. Apparently scared off by something, they left the wire, but it's useless.

Then one evening earlier this month, someone got into a construction vehicle, drove it over newly laid sod and smashed it into a fence.

Contractor Mark Anderson of MAnderson Construction Corp., puts the damage at $15,000 to $20,000. He has installed security cameras and signs, and he is offering a $2,500 reward for information on the incident.

Contractors Pay for Damage

While parks are under construction, they're the contractors' responsibility, and so far, contractors have eaten the expense.

But Cole said they'll start to calculate their losses and add that to future bids, though it's too early to know how much it will drive up costs.

"We'll feel it eventually," she said.

The increase in vandalism isn't limited to construction sites. Kuck, the Arizona operations manager, said the county spent $100,000 last year on vandalism repairs and expects to spend twice as much this year.

Roughly a quarter of the vandalism is graffiti, but park property gets smashed, burned and stolen as well. Thieves took thousands of feet of copper from irrigation systems in the Rillito River Park.

The Flowing Wells District Park on the Northwest Side gets hit the most, while Mission Ridge Neighborhood Park and Ebonee Marie Moody Neighborhood Park on the Southwest Side and Summit-Old Nogales Park off Old Nogales Highway also get hit frequently.

"It's really a shame," he said. "You're trying to build a park, and it's getting torn up. And the park down the street is getting hit on a daily basis."

Sources: Arizona (Tucson) Daily Star, Laredo (Texas) Morning Times

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October 23, 2019, 10:07 pm PDT

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