Copper thieves target CMP substation again

By Darcie Moore, Times Record
Posted Aug. 04, 2011, at 8:06 p.m.

TOPSHAM, Maine — Local police are investigating a second copper theft in seven weeks from the Central Maine Power Co. substation on Main Street.

Employing tactics similar to those police suspect were used in the previous substation copper capers, an intruder cut the fence around the substation and made off with about $3,000 worth of copper ground wires, according to Topsham police Lt. Christopher Lewis.

Police checked the property Saturday and found everything in order, so investigators believe the theft occurred sometime between Sunday morning and around 11 a.m. Tuesday, when the incident was reported to police.

The utility company had just replaced copper ground wire taken in the previous theft, Lewis said. Police have detected definite similarities between the two incidents, he said.

The heist marks the third theft of copper from a local CMP substation since May. Copper pipes and wiring also have been pilfered from other midcoast locations, and local law enforcement officials believe that thieves then sell the precious metal to scrap dealers. Increased prices for copper and other precious metals makes the illicit activity more lucrative.

Central Maine Power reported a theft of copper ground wire worth an estimated $4,000 from the same substation on June 13.

Lewis said police still don’t know who is behind the initial theft, and as of Wednesday, had no suspects for the most recent copper heist. In light of this second copper theft, Lewis said, “We will be changing our tactics in dealing with the substation and various locations that would have precious metals.”

In addition to the Topsham substation, theft of approximately $2,000 in copper ground wire from a CMP substation on Nequasset Road in Woolwich was reported in May to the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department.

Gail Rice, spokeswoman for CMP, said that when people carry out these types of thefts at the company’s substations, it “poses a real serious danger to the perpetrator, to our workers, and to the general public.”

Rice said when someone cuts a hole in the fence around a CMP substation, people are exposed to energized equipment that could injure or kill someone who comes into contact with it.

Sometimes when people cut ground wires, it causes a power outage, which is an inconvenience. But the biggest concern, Rice said, “is the safety of our workers and the general public, and when people break into a substation and steal copper wire, it often leaves the substation in a very dangerous state.”

When copper prices rise, Rice said, CMP sees a spike in these kind of thefts. “This obviously isn’t the first, and unfortunately probably won’t be the last,” she said.

Rice emphasized again the company can’t stress strongly enough that entering substations is “very, very dangerous.”

Rice noted that police, aided by information recorded on security cameras, recently apprehended individuals attempting to steal materials from a substation in York County. Copper thieves also have been caught as a result of observers reporting suspicious activity to their local law enforcement agency or from scrap metal dealers who grow suspicious when people attempt to sell materials to them.

State law requires that scrap dealers document what they receive, and some dealers have provided tip-offs, allowing police to catch a few copper thieves in the Augusta and Waterville areas.

Rice also encourages people, if they see something suspicious at CMP substations, to call local law enforcement and report it.

Lewis invited anyone with information about the thefts or who might have seen vehicles entering or leaving the area of the Topsham substation to call the Police Department at 725-4337. For information about the most recent theft, callers can ask for Officer Troy Garrison, who took the theft report Tuesday.

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http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/04/news/lewiston-auburn/copper-thieves-target-cmp-substation-again/ printed on July 25, 2014