Thieves target copper supplies

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thieves have been targeting rural areas of Putnam County in recent months but not in a way that most people might imagine.

It seems local sheriff's deputies have been called to investigate an increasing number of thefts from grain storage bins in isolated locations across the county. But it's not the contents of the storage bins that the thieves are taking.

Putnam County Sheriff's Detective Mike Biggs told the BannerGraphic Thursday that someone has been breaking into the electrical boxes on the bins and stealing the copper wires used to power the drying equipment.

Recently a local farmer reported a few thousand dollars worth of missing copper from his storage bins, however, it cost three times that much to replace it, Biggs said.

The sheriff's department has seen a spike in these types of thefts in the last few months, they believe, due to the rise in the price of copper around the world.

Apparently thieves steal the copper and then take it to nearby cities where scrap dealers are paying upwards of $2 per pound for it. Copper is 100-percent recyclable.

National sources indicate that the price of copper is going as high as $4 per pound in other parts of the country.

"All metals have skyrocketed in value," Biggs said. "It doesn't take much of it to add up to several pounds."

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much that property owners can do to prevent these thefts from happening. Most of the victims live in rural areas where the thieves can work under the cover of darkness.

"It's not like putting your car in the garage at night and locking it up," Biggs said. "The best thing we tell people to do is be aware and look out for each other's property."

Local farmers aren't the only ones being victimized.

A spokesman for Duke Energy, suppliers of power to much of Putnam County, Rob Norris said the company has been the victim of two apparent thefts in the last few weeks.

Approximately three weeks ago, he said, someone broke into the pole storage yard in Greencastle and made off with copper wires from several storage bins.

A short time before that, Duke officials discovered a door had been kicked in at a storage building next to a power station at Roachdale. Several copper items were missing from there as well.

"Obviously they were after the copper," Norris said.

Media reports from the southeastern United States indicated Thursday that Duke has reported numerous copper thefts in that region of the country as well. In fact, reports indicate that as many as five people have been electrocuted while climbing power poles in search of copper to steal.

"It is significantly dangerous to attempt something like that," Norris said.

News media from California to Maine have reported a significant rise in copper thefts, from building supply stores to homes under construction.

In Alabama, sheriff's investigators have been assigned to the copper cases full time and government officials have suggested scrap dealers should require a name and photo i.d. of anyone who sells them metal scraps.

Locally, sheriff's deputies arrested one man several weeks ago for allegedly stripping communication wires from a set of railroad tracks, but the thefts have continued.

"Right now our investigation is ongoing," Biggs said.

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