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Copper theft costs Manteca $50K yearly

Streetlight damage keeps some neighborhoods dark for weeks

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Copper theft costs Manteca $50K yearly

Copper wire

Photo contributed/

POSTED November 8, 2012 1:45 a.m.

Manteca taxpayers spent more than $50,000 last year replacing copper wiring stolen from underground streetlight boxes.

The end result is sections of streets in Manteca being left in darkness for weeks at a time as well as forcing the city to spend tight resources to replace the wiring.

The damage caused by copper thieves has become so problematic that the city is now requiring new subdivisions to literally cement over streetlight utility boxes after covering the wires with sand. When city crews need to go back and work on the lights, they will simply chisel away the concrete and then repack the wires in sand and pour cement over that again.

Public Works Director Mark Houghton said despite the time and cost involved in such a procedure the city still ends up saving money.

Since copper thieves started multiplying about six years ago officials estimate Manteca has lost in excess of $220,000 due to copper thieves.

While the city incurs hundreds of dollars in expense each time copper wire is ripped from underground vaults, the thefts barely get a few cents per pound for the copper they steal and recycle.

Some thieves have become so brazen they are stealing the copper right in broad daylight.

That is why the city is asking residents to be particularly vigilant between now and March while the firm that was awarded the contract to outfit streetlights with induction light fixtures - Siemens - does it work.

All trucks used for this work will be clearly marked as Siemens trucks. The workers should not be removing any underground wire. In the past trucks marked with bogus logos have been used to provide a cover for wire thieves. That is why Houghton is urging any resident to call 911 if they see anyone tampering with the underground streetlight wiring.

The new street lights are expected to cover their cost in several years due to the fact they consume half as much energy and last longer as well. The lights also provide more natural color of light to enhance visibility.

The city also has lost other items to metal thieves including cast iron manhole covers. In one instance last summer, thieves driving through a neighborhood under construction saw a fire hydrant that had yet to be connected and tossed it into a truck and drove off. Because police were summoned quickly they were caught in short notice.

Manteca - and surrounding farmlands - has been plagued with metal theft for more than seven years. Farmers often lose copper for irrigation pumps that not only cost them money to repair but if it prevents them from irrigating crops at key times it results in crop damages and losses.

Thieves have also been known to steel aluminum irrigation pipe for recycling.

Foreclosed homes have been prime targets for years for the theft of copper from air conditioning units, wiring inside walls and even pipes under sinks. Some of the more brazen thefts have included stealing parts of garage doors and swiping air conditioning units in broad daylight.

One thief was caught by railroad police trying to steal copper from crossing arms as they were warning of an approaching train.

The biggest private sector victim of copper theft was the former Alphatec/Indy Electronics building on Industrial Park Drive. Over the years, police at one point estimated there had been more than $500,000 worth of wiring well as damages caused by thieves trying to get behind walls and above fake ceilings.

Several years ago a man suspected of stealing copper fell through a skylight to his death at that location.

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