A 34-year-old man from Ladysmith is in police custody after a witness spotted a white truck towing a sawmill they recognized as reported stolen on social media.
After spotting the orange portable sawmill in the 4600-block of Elk lake Drive on Sept. 28 around 7:30 p.m., the witness informed police and officers located the vehicle and driver.
Police discovered that it was not only the sawmill that was stolen, but the white truck towing it was also stolen.
The man driving faces charges of possession of stolen property over $5,000, possession of break-in instruments, possession of a controlled substance and two counts of driving with a suspended licence.
The truck and sawmill were stolen on two separate occasions from local non-profits, Wildwood Ecoforest and the Nanaimo River Salmonid Enhancement Project.
Kathleen Code, vice-chair of the Ecoforestry Institute Society said that the organization is grateful to the public for their efforts in sharing information that led to the recovery of their Wood-Mizer sawmill.
“We’re very fortunate. It would have been a huge loss to us,” she said.
Depending on the model, new Wood-Mizer sawmills range in price from $4,313 to $97,993.
Code said that the sawmill is currently sitting in an impound lot, and that Wildwood Ecoforest will have to pay the impound fees to recover their stolen equipment.
“We have had a generous donor come forward to help us out with those fees.”
The equipment belongs Barry Gates, co-chair of the Ecoforestry Institute Society. Gates donates the equipment for Wildwood to use when they harvest timber from their 77 acre property.
“We harvest within our ecological parameters to ensure we have a standing forest that is ecologically functional,” Code said.
That wood is then milled and used to build and improve structures on the property.
Wildwood Ecoforest is in the middle of constructing an accessible washroom for visitors. The theft of the sawmill ground that project to a halt. With the return of the sawmill, work on that project has resumed. Wildwood has plans to construct an outdoor classroom in the spring.
Brian Banks, manager of the Nanaimo River Salmonid Enhancement Project, (NRSEP) said that this is the first vehicle theft he’s experienced in over 16 years with the organization.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time. This is our busiest time of the year right now. Luckily we were able to rent another vehicle,” he said.
A fish transport tank that was in the back of the stolen truck has been recovered. The tank was recovered from the roadside on Spruston Road. The tank was empty when the vehicle was stolen.
If the truck and fish tank were not recovered, replacement costs would have been over $20,000. As a non-profit society, NRSEP would have needed to fundraise for the new equipment.
“We’ve had a pretty large outpouring of support from the community over the last couple days,” Banks said.
Much like Wildwood, NRSEP said the thief would have been familiar with the site, as the truck was not visible from a public trail that runs nearby their facility.
“People don’t just drive by here,” Banks said.
Both organizations expressed gratitude for community efforts, and all those who participated in a broadly shared social media campaign to recover the stolen equipment.
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