Volunteers working to re-fence East Coast farms hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle have returned from their summer break to an unwelcome surprise.
Over the New Year period, thieves smashed the fuel cap off and syphoned 110 litres of diesel from one of the two tractors donated to help with re-fencing.
Ben Moore, who has been coordinating the Farmy Army on behalf of Federated Farmers, says the tractors have been generously provided by Case IH and New Holland.
“These tractors are so important for our Commence the Re-Fence work. They’re working alongside volunteers to rebuild thousands of kilometres of boundary and internal fences on farms in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay.
“It’s an absolute kick in the guts for our volunteers to have thieves pinch fuel from one of our tractors while it was working to refence a farm just north of Tikitiki.”
“The value of what we’re doing to each property is probably about $10k, and by the time we finish up on the East Coast, we’ll have serviced about 60 properties. It’s a huge amount of time and money, all provided freely by volunteers and organisations.”
Moore says farmers on the East Coast are facing a hard enough time without criminals slowing down the recovery process and adding to their costs.
The re-fencing work is crucial because, unless boundary fences are restored, stock can wander onto the roads, he says.
“What we’re doing is keeping animals on the right side of the fence and keeping the roads safe. It’s really dangerous for both animals and humans to have stock walking out on roads.”
Unfortunately, the tractor-diesel theft isn’t an isolated incident, with roading contractor and local farmer Troy Wheeler also falling victim.
Troy Wheeler Contracting provides employment for 25 local workers, who’ve been busy rebuilding the cyclone-damaged State Highway 35, the main highway servicing the East Cape, running from Ōpōtiki around to Gisborne.
Wheeler says thieves hit his business four times during November and December, usually on weekends.
“We often have to leave heavy machinery like excavators on-site at the end of the day, as it would be uneconomic to transport it back and forth every night and morning.
“These thieves have been going in ripping off the fuel caps and syphoning it out. We’ve also had spotlights pinched too – they just cut them off machinery.”
Wheeler says, in some of the thefts, the criminals have broken locks on the engine doors and then cut fuel lines to try and get the diesel out that way too.
The thefts have cost him thousands of dollars, but it’s also a major inconvenience and slows down the much-needed road repairs.
“We’re lucky to have a good courier service up to Hicks Bay, but when they cut hoses and things, those parts might not be available in Gisborne.
“We’ve had to get some parts sent down from Auckland, which is a day, and then up from Gisborne, which is another day. It’s all just time we’re out of action with machinery that’s not operational.”
Wheeler, who moved down from Auckland in 2015 and now owns a 3300-acre sheep and beef station at Lottin Point, says he’s proud to be a part of the recovery and offer employment.
“We’re providing work for local people who, collectively, are working 3200 manhours a month, primarily restoring cyclone-hit roads.”
Wheeler says his crew sometimes need to put waratahs and netting up around washed-out parts of the road, and even some of that gear has been pinched.
“They’ve rolled up the netting and pulled out the waratahs – it’s not a five-minute job,” he says.
The crimes have been reported to NZ Police, and Moore praised the hard work of police at Te Araroa station.
“The diesel theft happened between December 28 and January 1, so it’s when we should all be putting our feet up for a break, but the local police were hard at work trying to catch the criminals.”
NZ Police say they’re still looking into the crimes and would like anyone with information to call non-emergency number 105.