Pipeline Project Sabotaged

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Sabotaged earth-moving equipment greeted David Syme and his crew of heavy-machine operators when they arrived at work Jan. 16.

"It's a freakin' mess," Syme said. "I started this machine and oil poured out."

Vandals damaged three heavy-duty vehicles -- a loader, a trackhoe and a skid steer -- in Star Valley sometime between Thursday evening, Jan. 12 and Monday morning, said Karen Baltz of the Gila County Sheriff's Office.

The suspects tried to slash the hoses on a trench roller too, but steel reinforcement thwarted their endeavors.

The equipment is part of the pipe-laying project along Highway 260 that, when finished, will pump water from Star Valley to Payson for three new subdivisions and other projects in town.

Developer G. Michael Horton, whose company Terra Capital is developing the land and paying for the pipe project, said he takes this act of vandalism very seriously.

"It's a pretty substantial amount of damage," Horton said. "I hope it's not indicative of more than a small minority."

Horton said he's offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.

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David Syme and his crew say this incident is the worst they've experienced during the project. "We had some guy call us water thieves," Syme adds. "We're just here doing our jobs."

Meanwhile, three pieces of machinery, privately owned by Utah-based Johansen Construction, sit on a plot of dirt, leaking hydraulic fluid. Syme, the pipeline's project manager, said numerous hydraulic, electrical and brake lines were slashed. The workers also discovered smashed gauges and jammed starters.

Syme believes the vandals cut the hoses and wires with a sharp knife.

"These machines have to be totally rewired," Syme said. "The hydraulic system makes the machines work. It'll cost $4,000 or $5,000 just to fix the hydraulic lines."

Syme estimated the damage, including lost wages, at $25,000.

But things could have been a lot worse.

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The saboteurs sliced electrical wires, hydraulic hoses and brake lines. "If the workers had started their tractors without brakes, they could've endangered co-workers and others," said Karen Baltz of the Gila County Sheriff's Department.

"If we hadn't noticed the brake line," said Mitch Madsen, equipment operator. "I could've backed out in the street, and not had any brakes. It could have been a disaster, and it could still be. There is still damage we may not know about."

Syme said this is the worst act of vandalism against the company since the project started in late fall. But Syme, who lives near Camp Verde, said if he had known about the controversy, he would've declined the job.

"We had some guys call us water thieves, but we have nothing to do with it," Syme said. "We're just here making a living."

Baltz said the vandals face felony counts of criminal damage. To report information about this crime, call the Gila County Sheriff's Office at (928) 474-2208 and ask for detectives Brian Havey or George Ratliff.

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