The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 4, 2010

Copper thieves cut poles, ‘energized’ lines in Picher buyout area

By Andy Ostmeyer

PICHER, Okla. — Theft of copper from utilities and other businesses is nothing new, but officials say some brazen thieves took the crime up a notch — and should consider themselves lucky they’re not dead, even if they haven’t been caught yet.

The thieves made off with 3,000 feet of copper wire and some aluminum wire after cutting down numerous utility poles northeast of Picher, causing a temporary power outage for a handful of Empire District Electric Co. customers.

Sawed off

“They were sawed off at ground level with a chain saw,” Empire spokeswoman Amy Bass said of the six poles.

Some of the lines ran to houses that have been vacated in the government buyout of Picher, a former mining town in the middle of a Superfund site that is surrounded by mountains of chat and undermined by lead and zinc mine shafts and drifts. Some of those lines were dead, said Bass, but some were “energized.”

“They are taking monumental risks with their lives,” Bass said.

Besides the threat of electrocution, she said, the thieves could have been injured when the poles fell or by the lines themselves.

“You just don’t know what is going to happen when those poles fall,” she said.

Power out

Nine residents were without power for several hours Wednesday. The lines apparently were cut about 7:30 a.m.

“This caused a great inconvenience for some of our customers, but the safety aspect is our No. 1 concern,” said Bass.

The thieves also may have damaged the integrity of safety systems designed to protect both utility crews and customers.

“That puts our workers and the general population at risk,” Bass said.

Bryan Jacobs, executive director of the Coalition Against Copper Theft, based in Washington, D.C., said the group formed to represent utilities, contractors and others that have been victimized by copper thefts.

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