EMC says copper thefts a hazard

Fri, 02/20/2009 - 2:43pm
By: The Citizen

Proposed laws would crack down on metal recyclers

As instances of dangerous metal theft continue to rise across Georgia, proposed bills in the State Senate and House of Representatives aim to crack down on criminals by strengthening regulations for recyclers.

Supporters say passing Senate Bill 82 and House Bill 177 would have a significant impact on public safety according to Coweta-Fayette Electric Membership Corporation.

“Copper thefts create hazardous conditions for our linemen and the general public,” said Coweta-Fayette CEO Anthony H. “Tony” Sinclair. “Our concern is not monetary losses; this vandalism could kill someone if a stolen ground goes undetected. We need more enforcement at recyclers’ facilities in order to shut down the stolen metal marketplace, thereby deterring criminals and restoring worker protection.”

The Senate bill – which would require secondary metal recyclers to maintain records of all purchase transactions – was devised to combat the metal theft epidemic by preventing illegal sale and acquisition.

If passed, the bill would compel scrap metal recyclers to obtain a photocopied driver’s license, fingerprints and metal source information from potential sellers. Records would be transmitted to sheriff’s departments in respective jurisdictions within five days of a transaction, and cash payments for copper would be prohibited.

If passed, the House bill would not only require the same detailed records as the Senate bill, but it would also exact penalties for theft, including imprisonment and cost of repair and recovery. Accepting cash payments over $50 for any regulated metal would be prohibited.

Despite preventative measures already taken by law enforcement officials and those businesses considered targets, copper theft from electric substations, utility poles and lines continues to be a problem. If tampered with, the reliability of the electric system becomes compromised, and damaged lines pose a danger of electrocution to anyone in the vicinity – including utility workers, who may not know a ground has been removed.

In the past two years, Coweta-Fayette EMC has dealt with several instances of metal theft that could have resulted in not only widespread outages, but serious injury or death. At locations in Fayette, Fulton and Heard Counties, copper was cut from substation equipment and apparatus, making the area unsafe for employees. Luckily, the situations were resolved without incident.

“Linemen are accustomed to working in situations some might consider dangerous, but metal thieves put them in great jeopardy,” Sinclair said. “Our number one goal is the safety of our personnel, and eliminating a marketplace for these metals will reduce the risk of theft and injury.”

In addition to linemen, members of the general public are also endangered by copper thefts. If criminals leave vandalized substations open, a child or passerby may enter and face possible electrocution. Low-hanging wires could also pose a threat to drivers and those walking nearby if contact occurred.

Although the consequences do extend beyond consumers’ wallets, the statewide costs associated with metal theft are still detrimental. In 2007, there were a reported 299 incidents totaling an estimated $493,999 in repair costs. In 2008, there were 806 cases totaling just over $1 million.

“I appreciate the efforts made by State Rep. Matt Ramsey and State Sen. Ronnie Chance in the sponsorship of these bills,” Sinclair said. “If the legislation passes, the market for stolen metals – and therefore the associated crime – would be wiped out.”

The metal theft bills are expected to go before the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee and the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee in the near future. To voice your opinion, log on to www.legis.ga.gov or www.legis.state.ga.us.

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