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Cottonwood Island vandalism

Owner Robin Winston won't know the extent of damages to his vandalized equipment until it can be extracted from the mud and sand on Cottonwood Island.

In one of the worst local cases of vandalism ever recorded, someone ransacked a work site on Cottonwood Island in the Columbia River over the weekend, damaging tractors and other equipment to the tune of $150,000, authorities said.

Three Kubota tractors and a small four-seat ATV were hot-wired and driven around the island until they were stuck in deep ruts or smashed. Wiring was stripped. Equipment was overturned. Tractor parts were hacked off and carted away.

“They literally went crazy,” said Robin Winston, whose company, C & R Reforestation of Aurora, Ore., owns the equipment. “Somebody boated out there, took advantage of the situation and destroyed over $150,000 in new equipment.”

Investigators with the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office said the machinery was destroyed sometime between 11:30 a.m. Saturday and sometime Monday, when a work crew returned to the island and discovered the damage.

Winston, 57, said his company was hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct annual maintenance in a 90-acre wetland area on the island, which is just north of the Kalama Marina. The company’s crews have been clearing weeds, spraying and marking plants on the island, he said.

The vandals used the ATV to haul some tractor parts across the island where the gear was stashed in a cooler or in the bushes. Authorities said the stolen items were discovered before the thieves could return for them.

No suspects have been identified. Winston is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever was behind the destruction.

“We’re going after whoever did this with a vengeance,” he said. “We’re going to track these guys down.”

The equipment, which had just been purchased for the job, had been on the island for about a week and had been used for only about 15 hours, Winston said.

“We were basically one day away form moving the equipment off the island to go do other projects,” he said.

Winston said it will take time for his insurance company replace or repair the equipment, and now he doesn’t have enough equipment to fulfill his other contracts. If he loses those jobs, he said, the company will lose between $50,000 and $100,000.

“It almost put me out of business — literally,” he said of the destruction of his equipment. “Whoever did this, they don’t have a clue how much damage they caused. ... It’s our livelihood.”

He said he is now looking for rental equipment or subcontractors who can take on the other jobs.

C & R does wetland mitigation, reforestation and wildland firefighting work and employs up to 100 people seasonally. Winston said he employs about a dozen people full-time.

Winston said he’s been in the construction business since 1980, but “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

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