The Salmon Arm Fair was a sunny sea of smiling faces Oct. 9 to 11.
But smiles faded to annoyed frowns when clean-up began on Monday after the fair.
Maintenance workers discovered a 60-foot section of broken fencing on the southwest side of the fairgrounds facing Blackburn Park.
“We will have to replace the whole section of fence,” said a frustrated fair manager Jim McEwan, who noted the Salmon Arm and Shuswap Lake Agricultural Society spent in excess of $10,000 in the past year to repair damage. In recent months, custom-keyed locks were cut from the gates. Installed by the city, they cost several hundred dollars.
While broken locks occur primarily at the Blackburn gate on the south fairgrounds, the lock beside the log building on the northwestern corner of the site has been cut several times, as has the gate by the arena.
“It’s almost a daily occurrence that there is some damage to the fairgrounds,” McEwan said, pointing out he believes most of the people who break in are seeking shelter. “They have also been using the buildings for drug use and drinking.”
As well as tagging, sometimes accompanied by profane comments, McEwan said stolen property has been found on the fairgrounds, often once a week, particularly during the summer months,
Stolen items have included generators, computers, bicycles and more.
“We never know what we’re gonna find,” he said. “Maintenance crews turn it over to police.”
Damage is often significant. Along with repetitive tagging, the announcer’s booth in the grandstand area is often a target and was the location of a small fire.
“It didn’t cause serious damage, but it could have been a disaster,” McEwan said, pointing out the booth has had to be repainted several times.“Every event is another $1,000 to replace windows, doors and other broken things.”
McEwan said he understands the fairgrounds are not the only target in town, something ROOTSandBLUES Festival executive director David Gonella confirms.
He said damage is almost a constant.
“Someone threw a rock through a window of the office and tore the handle off the door trying to get in,” he said, noting he is concerned that people sometimes sleep under the bridge from Fifth Avenue to the front door.
The festival’s storage quonset on the west side of the city has been targeted several times. This year, plumbing fixtures and brass fittings from the misters were stolen and festival organizers were unable to find replacements in time for the August event.
As well, the lights that add a magical air to the festival at night are chained to the trees to thwart would-be thieves.
The Salmon Arm Folk Music Society which hosts the festival, has paid in excess of $20,000 for cameras, fencing and other security measures and credits Salmon Arm Security for their protection.
McEwan said the RCMP members do everything they can, respond to complaints and complete reports.
“For the most part everybody knows who’s doing it,” he said, noting that as soon as the fence is repaired, trespassers use wire cutters to gain easy access again. “Police arrest them, but they’re released fairly quickly. It’s just a revolving door, and it must be very frustrating for the police as well.”
McEwan said the association pays for security to do an evening check but can’t afford to pay for security guards all night.
The end result is a lot of costly maintenance, something McEwan calls a waste of resources.
“That money could go into other services or programs and that’s a lot more positive than spending it on vandalism,” he said, pointing out the association hasn’t raised admission for at least 10 years. “We want to keep our prices in line with the community we serve, but we need revenue from some source.”
McEwan said he understands that many of the trespassers have mental health issues and is critical of the province for downloading the problem onto municipalities.
“Maybe this could become an election issue, maybe it can spark discussion among the candidates.”
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