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Marshall County utility seeking scrap thieves

January 4, 2013

PLYMOUTH - For the past few months Marshall County REMC workers and customers have noticed an increase in a very specific crime.
“It stems back into early summer when we were changing out a lot of poles and equipment around the area,” said Dave Lewallen of Marshall County REMC. “Our lineman noticed that on a lot of poles the copper covered ground wire was missing off of the poles as far us as could be reached from the ground. In some cases we don’t know how long they had been like that.”
The missing ground wire was a concern for many reasons - the main one - safety for both lineman and customers.
“Taking away that wire is taking away a safety device,” said Lewallen. “If you have some sort of problem in the line, the nature of electricity is that it will always seek the ground. If it isn’t grounded at that particular spot it will travel down the line until it can reach the ground.”
The result could be voltage spikes that destroy sensitive electronics, fires, and harm to those working the power lines.
“We even received a call from neighbors of a property that appeared to be abandoned,” said Lewallen. “Somebody had taken a chain saw and cut the power pole intending to steal the transformer. What they didn’t know was that there was still 7200 volts of power flowing in the line. That had obviously scared them off before they could take the transformer.”
The main reason for the thefts is for the scrap value of the copper in the wire and in other electrical equipment. The irony is that the utility uses a special copper coated steel alloy that has no scrap value.
“We’ve been changing out all the copper for a very inexpensive copper clad steel,” said Lewallen. “The process to remove the copper from the steel is so intensive that it has no real scrap value at all.”
While there is a cost to replace damaged equipment REMC’s concern is more for members.
“Our cost to fix these things is not really very substantial,” said Lewallen. “We’re concerned about our members and the guys who have to go out and fix these things. It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets hurt.”
The utility encourages anyone who sees someone who is not an REMC employee tampering with any power lines to take proper action.
“If you see somebody that isn’t in one of our trucks tampering with equipment it isn’t a bad idea to call the (Marshall County) Sheriff’s Department or even 9-1-1 and they can at least send somebody by to check it out,” said Lewallen. “You can call REMC as well. If you see someplace where power lines are slack and drooping, a pole cut or anything like that we want to know about it.”

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