LEWISTON — The heavy-duty copper cords used to power Simard-Payne Memorial Park for the Great Falls Balloon Festival and the Dempsey Challenge each year were discovered stolen earlier this week, and festival organizers are scrambling to organize fundraisers to replace the missing equipment.

Some 26,000 feet of copper power cords had been stored on large spools in a locked trailer in Auburn for the winter, along with dozens of outdoor outlet covers, according to festival treasurer Mell Hamlyn. She said each of the covers was worth about $4,000, and the estimated replacement cost for all of the stolen equipment is estimated at between $40,000 and $50,000.

Hamlyn said there will be additional costs for electricians to cut new cables, attach plugs and set up new outlet covers.

Auburn police are investigating the burglary, festival spokeswoman Christina Noonan said, which appears to have occurred in the late fall or early winter. Given that passage of time, Hamlyn said it may be difficult for police to determine what happened or even when it happened.

The festival board has spoken to a number of people about helping to raise money to replace the equipment, including The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing staff, city officials, Kora Shriners and others. “Everybody is, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get this done,’” she said.

She said the groups intend to organize small and large fundraisers. “We’ve had an offer of somebody doing a chicken barbecue, to a pancake breakfast, to maybe some kind of dinner, like a mystery dinner theater type of thing. It’s going to be a campaign, and it’s going to take a while.”

Noonan set up a gofundme.org/powerthefestival page Friday morning, with a goal of raising $50,000. As of 9 p.m., more than $500 had been raised.

Aimee Arsenault, manager of development and special events for The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, noted “the balloon festival has generously allowed the Dempsey Challenge to utilize their electrical cabling for our event since our first year, for which we’re extremely grateful.”

Arsenault added, “We’re disheartened to hear about the theft, and are fully committed and eager to work through this together so both of our events can be successful in 2015. We can’t change what’s happened, but we will move forward together and pool our resources, hopefully with the support of the Lewiston-Auburn community, as well.”

Hamlyn said the theft is very frustrating for festival volunteers.

“They probably got $2,000 for these cables at a recycler,” she said, adding that police are checking with local businesses to see whether anyone tried to sell the cables.

“I would have written them a check for $2,000 to go away and leave them alone,” Hamlyn said of the thieves, “and probably give them another $500 and say, ‘Don’t look back.’”

“The festival has liability insurance, but our policy doesn’t cover an incident like this,” Hamlyn said.

Raising funds to host what will be the 23rd annual Balloon Festival on Aug. 21-23 this year is tough enough, Hamlyn said, and to now have to raise additional money to replace the equipment is going to take work. “If we had the ability to have that kind of money, to raise those kinds of funds, we’d try to do so many better things with that instead of replace stolen material.”

This is not the first time the balloon festival equipment has been targeted.

In 2012, vandals slashed festival tents set up in Simard-Payne park on loan for Museum L-A’s inaugural Bands on the Run Half Marathon & 5K road race. The damage was estimated at $2,000, and the tents have since been repaired.

Help power the festival! www.gofundme.org/powerthefestival

Posted by Great Falls Balloon Festival on Friday, April 10, 2015

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