Copper wire thefts on the rise, city staff say

You may have seen some construction on the Sherman Access Wednesday. Crews were repairing the street lights after thieves recently stole the copper wiring.
These signs to deter wire theft are on light poles at Olympic Park in Dundas (CBC)

In the last year, thieves have stolen 17.5 kilometres worth of copper wiring from city streetlights. 

One of those thefts is what led to a closing of one lane of the Sherman Access Wednesday. Crews closed a lane to replace stolen copper wire with less-valuable aluminum wire.

The city has seen an increasing in copper wire thefts from street lights, staff say.

The last couple years, its really jumped up.- Gord McGuire, Hamilton manager of engineering services for the city’s public works department.urce

“The last couple years, its really jumped up,” said Gord McGuire, manager of engineering services for the city’s public works department.

 McGuire said since November 2012,  the 7.5 kilometres of copper wire was stolen in 17 incidences. It’s cost the city about $100,000 to replace the stolen product, he said.

In the three years previous, there was just 10 thefts.

“What they have taken is from the underground wires,” McGuire said, “and disconnect from [street light] pole to pole.”

The thieves stealing the wire typically go for longer sections like what is found on the access routes or larger arterial roads, he said. They can then turn around and sell the copper to make some money.

President of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario Dan Lancia said copper can go for between $2.50 to $3.50 per pound on the black market.

The city owns about a third of wiring connecting street lights, and hydro companies like Horizon own the remainder, and this is not just an issue for the city.

“It’s an industry-wide problem,” McGuire said.

Horizon Utilities spokesperson Larry Roberts said snipping hydro lines to get at the copper wiring happens “fairly frequently.”

Aside from the replacement costs, there is also a “significant safety” concern, McGuire said.

The thieves leave an open electrical line that poses a danger to themselves, but also to the crews who have to go in and do the repair.

The Hamilton Police Break and Enter, Auto theft and Robbery (BEAR) unit investigates case of stolen copper wire.

In June of this year, a 61-year-old Hamilton man was arrested for cutting hydro lines on Delaware Avenue.

There were two incidences in April – two men were caught trying to cut lines at Barton Street East and Grosvenor Area. In another case, a man tried to steal copper from a construction site at Sanford Avenue School.

McGuire said the city is doing their best to replace wiring, but its an expensive process.

“[The city] doesn’t have the money to replace all the copper in the system,” he said, in order to prevent future thefts. “But we’ve replaced a significant portion with aluminum.”

Aluminum costs the city less, McGuire said, but copper is still preferred for conductivity.


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