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Alpacas are still missing

Alpaca owner Dick Whittick still doesn’t know the whereabouts of the 25 alpacas taken from Whidbey Island Alpacas at Greenbank Farm last weekend, but his plans to build a fiber mill will go ahead with or without them.

Sheriff’s office spokesperson Jan Smith said they are still working on the case, but released few details since it is an ongoing investigation.

“We are investigating many different aspects,” she said Thursday. “We are working to determine if there are any criminal aspects.”

Details are sketchy, but it is known that the animals were taken Saturday by Harold Berkholtz, an alpaca farmer from Enderly, British Columbia. While Berkholtz asserts he had a right to take the animals in lieu of money Whittick owed him, and Whittick knew he was coming, Whittick disputes that claim. If the sheriff’s department determines Berkholtz had no legal claim to the alpacas he took, it could become a criminal case, Smith said.

Whittick has reason to believe the animals might have been sold in Montana, and he’s worried that the new owner might not know how to properly care for several of the babies, or crias, which he said need to be bottle fed.

“I would really go after him (legally) if anything happened to them,” he said of Berkholtz. Whittick has contacted members of the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association in Montana, but none have reported seeing the Whidbey Island alpacas.

Berkholtz declined to say where the animals were taken. “We’re not disclosing, it’s private,” he said. He said in an e-mail to the Island County Sheriff’s Department that none of the mothers and babies he took were mismatched, and none were pregnant. He also felt Whittick “grossly overestimated” the value of the animals which he put at close to $20,000, “not the $141,000 value that Dick stated.”

While the fate of the alpacas is unknown to him, Whittick said their loss won’t affect the fiber mill he wants to operate at Greenbank Farm, and he is going ahead with his plans.

His lease of barn number two has been held up for months, in limbo while Port of Coupeville and Greenbank Farm Management Group determine who will be the landlord for the recently renovated barn.

That ongoing negotiation has enabled Whittick to buy time to develop a new type of fiber processing mill. The fiber milling operation at the farm will act as a display model for the mill, while employing local people to run it and staff the gift shop.

Whittick said he has invested about $100,000 so far in research and development of the mill, which will be made in Canada. He estimates he owes — or owed — Harold Berkholtz between $50,000 and $55,000 for alpacas.

“Yes, I’m strapped for money,” he said Thursday. He is confident the negative cash flow will reverse once he is able to start selling the mills, but said that might not be until early next year. The mills will sell for around $125,000, and he said he has one customer waiting already.

“There are huge amounts of fiber out there and no decent mill on the market,” he said.

He estimates selling one mill will be enough to finance the start up of his own mill. He plans on selling several mills before setting one up in the Greenbank Farm location.

He would like to open a retail alpaca product store in the front portion of the barn before Christmas, and is working with the farm on that.

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