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Guards posted at area SRP facilities

By: Doug Snover

April 28, 2007

The high price of copper has thieves wrecking utility equipment to steal wire and Salt River Project protecting itself by posting uniformed guards at its most vulnerable construction sites and by lobbying the State Legislature for a law that would slow the trade in stolen metals.

“For the last couple of years, there’s been an increase in the theft of wire, particularly wire,” said Pete Chapas, SRP’s security manager.

“Where we feel we are exposed, we deploy either uniformed guards or we use electronic monitoring … so the bad guys know there is somebody watching.”

“Just to protect copper, it’s costing us (SRP) probably $40,000-$50,000 per month,” Chapas estimated.

Thieves don’t just pick up spools of copper wire lying around a worksite. They’ve been known to use chains and a pickup truck to rip wiring off utility poles, causing power outages and tearing up SRP substations.

It’s not unusual for thieves to cause $50,000 worth of damage to an SRP site while stealing $1,000 worth of copper, Chapas said.

He estimated that copper theft – including the damage caused by thieves – cost SRP $300,000-$400,000 in the past three years.

SRP has more construction projects under way than usual, which means there are more opportunities for copper thieves. Several of those construction sites are within the Kyrene Corridor as SRP increases the electrical transmission capacity between the Hanger substation near Guadalupe and Price roads and the Houston substation on McClintock just north of Ray Road.

It’s not unusual for SRP to have as many as 30 construction sites going at one time, according to Chapas. Uniformed guards are posted at many of those sites, he said.

SRP contracts with a private security company for about 200 uniformed guards each day, Chapas said.

The second front in the battle against copper theft is happening at the Arizona Legislature.

SRP is one of the strongest supporters of H.B. 2314, a law that would require scrap metal dealers to maintain records of all scrap metal purchases and would require dealers who purchase scrap copper or aluminum to hold payments for 15 days and then pay only by check – no cash.

Chapas, who has appeared in the State Capitol to promote H.B. 2314, said the payment restrictions will discourage drug users hoping to make a quick buck by stealing copper.

Scrap metal dealers must keep a record of any transaction involving the receipt of scrap metal that exceeds $25. Each record must include specified information such as an identifying description of the scrap metal and the seller’s name, physical description, address, date of birth and driver license number.

Within 24 hours, the dealer must deliver to the local law enforcement agency a record of the receipt that includes the information about the seller.

Additionally, dealers must hold onto the aluminum and copper it buys for a week after purchasing it and sending the seller information to police.

The requirements do not apply, however, when the seller holds an “industrial account” that requires the seller to file monthly sales tax returns.

When H.B. 2314 was introduced earlier this year, Chapas told legislators that the loss in materials to SRP over the last two years has been in excess of $300,000, including maintenance required to put the various facilities back together after the thefts occurred.

Chapas testified that the increase in copper theft has been dramatic over the last three years, with 50 thefts in 2004-2005 increasing to 95 thefts in 2005-2006.


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