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Copper theft on rise at area farms

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Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:15 am, Thu Mar 10, 2011.

It’s been known for several years that there’s a lot of money to be made by stealing copper wire in rural areas and selling it to recyclers who will pay for it.

But copper theft seems to have gone up in the past year or so. Thornton farmer Mike Stokes reports that, despite secure fencing, thieves have stolen copper from his properties 30 times since June 10.

“We are getting hit three or four times a week,” said Stokes, who owns farmland in San Joaquin, Sacramento and Nevada counties with his brother, Bill Stokes, and sister, Sharon Stokes. “This is costing me thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Thieves seem to go to secluded locations in the dark of night and use pliers to pry open the fencing where electrical systems are located. Then they strip the copper from the wire and take it with them.

Stokes showed a News-Sentinel reporter what was left of the electrical system of irrigation pumps to a vineyard. The electrical system was adjacent to a levee road about a quarter-mile off Thornton Road. The fencing was open, and the wires were anything but intact.

He’s installed security lighting, but that doesn’t seem to work either, he said.

Across town at another vineyard off New Hope Road, Stokes recently installed a special gate made of wood and chain link fencing to deter would-be thieves in such a way that thieves would have to jump into the Mokelumne River and climb up to the electrical system to get the copper.

Buddy Baker, who operates Acampo Pump Service in Lodi, replaces copper that’s stolen from private property. Baker spent Wednesday morning replacing some copper stolen from a ranch on West Turner Road. He estimates the thief made no more than $25 or $30 for his efforts, but it cost the victim $7,000 to $8,000 in parts and labor to have the copper replaced.

Stokes said the last repair on his property also cost him $7,000.

“I do have insurance, but my insurance rates have gone up (due to claims),” Stokes said.

Baker thinks that more copper is being stolen this year.

“I’ve done probably six jobs already, not counting the copper stolen from my own yard,” Baker said. “We’re all victims.”

The amount someone can get for selling copper changes daily. They can make anywhere from $40 to $200 per ton, depending on the type of wire and how big it is, Baker said.

Stokes credits the Sheriff’s offices in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties for their quick response when he wakes up in the morning and finds damaged equipment.

“They are doing all they can, but they’re short handed,” Stokes said of the Sheriff’s offices.

“It ebbs and flows,” Sacramento County Sheriff’s spokesman Jason Ramos said regarding copper theft. “We see it from time to time in new housing developments. You see it in the heating and air conditioning units.”

San Joaquin County Sheriff’s spokesman Les Garcia was not immediately available for comment.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • Chris Santana posted at 9:40 am on Fri, Mar 18, 2011.

    Chris Santana Posts: 1

    As a commercial real estate agent and commercial property owner this has been a huge issue as well!! Large HVAC units are being vandalized just for the copper, costing landlords $15,000 to $40,000 a unit to replace. We have had landlords that didn't have the insurance in place to cover the replacement, and many of these large buildings have 5 to 10 units. We have been recommending our landlords install laser alarm systems and cameras on the roof tops which have been pretty effective. It seems to me that if there were stricter regulations at the recycling centers, this issue would slow down substantially. Drivers license and finger prints should be acquired. Those recycling on a regular basis should be investigated. It would be similar to what is required when we purchase allergy medication.



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