Stolen manhole covers drain city budgets
It just isn’t sewer manhole covers and storm
grates that are the objects of thieves in search of scrap metal.
On February 3 just outside of Archbold, Ohio, two trucks containing
more than $100,000 worth of brass scrap was stolen.
Homeowners are also being affected. Just recently,
a Toledo, Ohio newspaper reported that aluminum sidings and gutter
downspouts were taken from homes.
As the demand for metals continues to increase
globally, the temptation to steal metal objects from municipalities
and homes is great.
The City of Indianapolis had more than 30 manhole
covers stolen in late January. The thefts apparently stopped with
the February 1 arrest of Michael Caputo, who admitted to stealing
two manhole covers. In total, four manhole covers and 47 sewer
grates were lost.
“On a typical year, four to five manhole
covers or grates come up missing,” said Margie Smith Simmons,
a public relations officer with the city’s public works
She explained that manhole covers cost about
$200 to replace, while sewer grates can cost between $200 and
$3,000 to replace based on various factors, including new moldings
and labor costs. In Indianapolis, the average manhole cover weighs
approximately 120 pounds, while the average sewer grate weighs
approximately 80 pounds.
But thieves do not receive much for their efforts
if they are successful in finding a buyer.
“One of the scrap yards in town only offers
$6 to $8 for a manhole cover,” said Simmons, who also notes
that grates are being cut up after they are stolen. Scrap dealers
in Indianapolis do not accept manhole covers that are identified
as property of any municipality, but they do accept manhole covers
that have no identification.
Simmons indicated that scrap dealers are fully
aware of their obligation to contact the police should they be
offered identifiable municipal property.
“They are not allowed to accept them, they
know it is a crime and they contact the police,” she said.
The missing manhole covers pose a threat to motorists
and especially pedestrians, as some shafts are 30 feet deep.
Police also apprehended two attempting to cut
down a freeway light pole. In another incident, two men illegally
entered a burned-out building and attempted to load a steel I-beam
into a truck.
In Milwaukee, Racine and many parts of Illinois,
says Robert Brooks, Milwaukee’s sewer service manager, legislation
forbids scrap dealers to accept grate iron castings from municipalities
unless they are licensed contractors that are doing a paving job.
As well, municipal officials have the authority to enter a salvage
yard at any time and request their records.
Within the next two to three months, the city
will be testing various locking devices in problem areas to deter
Columbus, Ohio was subject to thefts between
June and November 2005, in which 220 storm drain grates were taken.
Chicago lost almost 200 manhole covers last November, with 40
taken on a single day.
The United Kingdom is experiencing similar problems.
Of 40 stolen manhole covers stolen from the City of Gloucester
on March 10, 2004, police recovered 12 from a smelting plant in
Newport 5 days later. The police suspect the covers were purchased
from a scrap metal merchant. The theft was valued at L3000 and
the crime attributed to the rising price of heavy scrap metal.
In 2005 London experienced the “Great Drain Robbery”
when more than 100 manhole covers were stolen over a few days.
According to a 2005 report, the price for scrap
metal had nearly quadrupled over a three-year period, with an
84-per-cent increase in 2005. This led to increases in thefts
of manhole covers, pipes, beams and even streetlights. Thieves
are also partial to I-beams, rain gutters, wire and light metal
poles. At the time, scrap dealers were paying about five cents
per-pound of scrap metal.