The Great Falls Balloon Festival is scrambling to replace almost $50,000 worth of copper power cords stolen from a storage facility, a theft that jeopardizes the summer festival and threatens a key fundraising opportunity for dozens of area nonprofits.

The theft also could affect the annual Dempsey Challenge, which uses equipment loaned by the Lewiston-Auburn hot air balloon festival.

Organizers announced Friday on the festival’s Facebook page that the cords used to electrify the field at Simard-Payne Memorial Park had been stolen over the winter. The festival, which includes live music and food vendors, as well as balloon launches, doesn’t have money to replace the equipment.

“Of course we need to raise the $50,000 to replace the cables. We can’t have a festival without power at the field,” said Mell Hamlyn, treasurer for the festival’s board of directors. “Every vendor, every booth down there has electricity.”

NONPROFITS DEPEND ON FESTIVAL

In addition to vendors who sell arts and crafts, the food stalls are operated by 32 different nonprofits raising money for their programs.

Among those are the Kora Shrine and other Masonic groups, raising money to support a national network of children’s hospitals that offer specialized care regardless of the ability to pay.

“I heard about it last night and was very shocked and sad,” said Allen Collins, a member of the Kora Shrine. “There are so many good nonprofits that benefit from this. The balloon festival has been in the community, the Great Falls-Lewiston/Auburn area, for many, many years. People come from all over to partake. It brings in a lot of visitors.”

“It’s a shame to know that happened and now we have to try to get together and get the money. We need to get the equipment back. Without that equipment, nobody will have power and this thing will not be able to go on,” he said.

Other nonprofits that participate in the festival include Lewiston High School’s senior class, several sports teams and activities, Habitat for Humanity, church groups, the Children’s Miracle Network, the Boy Scouts and many others.

The cables also benefited the Dempsey Challenge, the annual run, walk and bicycle ride held in October to raise money for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing. The balloon festival has loaned the cables to the Dempsey Challenge for the festival in the park that marks the end of the ride.

“The balloon festival has been very gracious and generously lent us those cables for the Dempsey Challenge since the first year,” said Amy Arsenault, a spokeswoman for the charitable event. “We were very disheartened to hear of (the theft) and it sort of has the same implications for both events. We’re working with them and hopefully there will be some support from the community as well so both our events will be successful.”

NOT COVERED BY INSURANCE

The festival, slated for Aug. 21-23 this year, has liability insurance but not coverage for this type of theft, according to its Facebook page.

Festival organizers stored the cables in a trailer that was parked after the Dempsey Challenge in October. On Wednesday, they noticed that the doors were open and the trailer had been broken into. The thieves took about 25,000 feet of cable, some of it on spools, some in loose coils. The cable can cost between $2 and $10 per foot, depending on the gauge. They also took outdoor, heavy-duty outlet covers that the festival recently spent nearly $4,000 to replace, Hamlyn said.

Hamlyn declined to say where the storage trailer was located because the festival stores other items there also.

The theft is being investigated by the Auburn Police Department, but it will be difficult to solve. The theft probably happened in early winter, Lt. Timothy Cougle said, because large drifts of snow had covered the back of the trailer since the theft.

Police suspect the cables were stripped of their coating and sold as scrap copper.

The metal is frequently targeted by thieves because, unlike items sold online or at pawn shops, scrap copper difficult to trace. The cable or the copper inside could have been taken out of the state or sold off in smaller amounts.

The thieves likely made far less than the materials would be worth if sold as functioning cable.

Scrap copper was selling for about $2.75 per pound Friday, according to the website for Kitco Metals. While the price of copper was as high as $4.50 per pound four years ago, it has dropped steadily since, rebounding slightly from $2.50 per pound at the beginning of February.

REPLACEMENT COSTS HIGHER

The cost to replace the wire is much more than that. The cable was cut to specific lengths and spliced into outlet boxes by an electrician and replacing it would require the same effort and expense. Festival organizers have purchased and replaced electrical cables over the 23 years that the festival has been operating.

“Because of the quantity and the value, it’s a significant theft,” Cougle said. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 784-7331.

The balloon festival has created a fundraising campaign website at GoFundMe to raise money to replace the cords in time for the festival in August. People also have stepped forward and offered to host fundraisers as well, Hamlyn said.

Though the festival runs for three days in the summer, organizers work almost year-round on the event. Hamlyn said they already have secured some of the special balloon shapes that will be featured this year, including a giant fishbowl, a massive hummingbird and a balloon that looks like the earth.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: Mainehenchman


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