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Should the state crack down on valuable metal theft?

Staff Report • Jan 9, 2012 at 6:28 AM

Thieves are making off with whatever valuable metals they can lay their hands on. And it doesn’t seem to matter if that metal is found in a power substation or on top of a storm drain.

Kingsport police arrested two men in December and charged them with stealing more than 30 storm drain covers during the past month from locations throughout the city.

The Kingsport Times-News reported on Dec. 31 that Joshua Bates, 25, 1000 University Blvd., Kingsport, and Shannon Browder, 30, Isaac Avenue, Kingsport, were arrested by the Kingsport Police Department on charges of theft of property over $1,000. Bates was charged with three counts of theft, while Browder was charged with two counts.

Also last month, police in Johnson City charged two 18-year-old men with stealing drain covers. Witnesses on Fairlawn Drive reported seeing the suspects place the covers in their car, with police later locating the stolen items at a metal recycling business.

Richard M. Gouge, 310 Amity Lane, Johnson City, and Jordon D. Moore, 215 Parkway Blvd., Elizabethton, were arrested in the incident. They were each charged with theft of property over $500.

In the Kingsport case, police said they recovered 18 of the stolen drain covers at a metal recycling facility in Weber City, Va.

Thieves here and abroad are cutting down power and telephone wires to sell the valuable metal inside as scrap.

Soaring metal prices — primarily driven by demand from China and India — have resulted in bandits plundering communication lines, traffic lights and other wiring in search of copper.

As Press staff writer Gary B. Gray reported last month, officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority are looking to crack down on thieves who take copper and other metals from their installations.

Eleven TVA sites northeast of Knoxville, including Boone, Watauga and Cherokee dams as well as the John Sevier Fossil plant and the surrounding substations and switch yards have seen thieves make off with copper wiring.

“The copper is used for grounding wire, and it’s used in every one of those facilities,” Scott Brooks, a TVA spokesman, told the Press last month. Anyone with information about these thefts should call TVA police at 800-548-4005. The rise in world copper prices have left builders and homeowners also feeling the financial impact of thieves, who are stripping homes and air conditioners of copper wiring and tubing.

Builders say they lose tens of thousands of dollars every year from metal theft. That’s one of the reasons the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law in 2008 requiring scrap metal dealers to register with the state Department of Commerce and to stiffen the fines of those convicted of stealing copper and other precious metals.

Under the act, scrap metal dealers may not buy or otherwise acquire precious metals from anyone who does not present a valid state or federally issued photo ID and may not sell to anyone under 18. Dealers must also require a thumbprint record of a person who wishes to sell scrap metal to the dealer, and a record of that transaction with detailed information must be kept on site for at least three years.

We want to hear from you. Should the state do more to crack down on those involved in the theft of valuable metals? Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification.

We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks. You also can go to www.johnsoncitypress.com to cast a vote in the online poll. Results of the poll, along with comments from readers, will appear on the Opinion page Jan. 17.

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