Lincoln plagued by persistent theft of street signs

This sign at West Broadway and Fleming streets, as seen on Friday,
Aug. 26, 2011, is among a decreasing number not stolen by vandals,
Lincoln police say.
This sign at West Broadway and Fleming streets, as seen on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, is among a decreasing number not stolen by vandals, Lincoln police say.
Posted Aug. 26, 2011, at 6:36 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 26, 2011, at 7:36 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — If you’re one of those types who thinks it’s cute to hang a local street sign in your garage, you would do well to avoid David Lloyd.

The Public Works Department director is still counting but said he has determined during the last few weeks that 45 of about 100 public and private streets he has surveyed lack signs due to theft. About a quarter of the missing signs also lack posts and brackets, he said, meaning that the road names only exist in maps, town records and the minds of people intimately familiar with the area.

“Some of these private roads I don’t even know the names of anymore,” Lloyd said Friday.

“This is kind of funny,” Lloyd said, sounding not at all humored. “There’s a street in North Lincoln where I have replaced the street sign three years in a row. I put it up in June and somebody has taken it already.”

Lloyd didn’t want to identify the street for fear that somebody would steal the sign again.

“That gets real annoying,” he said.

At $39 per sign and $65 for the complete kit, which includes the metal post and brackets that hold the sign to the pole — but doesn’t count fuel and labor costs — the almost-constant need for sign replacement is an expensive and time-consuming nuisance, Lloyd and Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said.

And it is dangerous. Town firefighters and police make it their business to know where they are going, but severe emergencies can draw many agencies. Utility crews or out-of-town firefighters hurrying to a large-scale fire with downed electrical lines on a small or obscure lakefront road, or state police and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department personnel rushing to assist town police with shootings in remote areas, could lose valuable time searching or radioing for directions, Lloyd said.

“I can’t imagine the nightmare it would be to get a firetruck to somebody’s camp or home out by a lake where there’s no sign,” Lloyd said.

Sign loss is an especially vexing problem in Lincoln, the land of 13 lakes which are often honeycombed with old logging roads or newly built private streets. Lincoln is about 75 square miles, including 67 miles of above-water land, in northern Penobscot County near exit 227 of Interstate 95.

“We see this every five or six years — this vandalism,” Lloyd said. “Used to be in town that kids liked to throw signs in [Mattanawcook] Lake. That used to be the first place people looked when they were missing. There is no rhyme or reason why they are taking them.”

“Some people like to hang them in their garages,” Goodwin said.

Town leaders have no immediate solution to the problem. They have alerted police to watch for sign thefts and have considered several options, but paying for each missing sign seems inescapable, Goodwin said. Not paying, particularly for signs on lesser-known and private roads, would threaten public safety.

Town officials could charge neighborhood or lakefront resident associations for signs to private roads, but that might discourage the reporting of missing signs, inadvertently threatening safety. Securing signposts to prevent theft is also unpalatable, Lloyd said.

“If we anchor the post solidly in the ground, then it becomes a hazard if somebody hits it on a motorcycle” or bicycle, Lloyd said.

Lloyd hopes to finish his tally of missing signs sometime next week. Police are assisting. Anyone wishing to report a missing sign for replacement should call Lloyd at 794-6658 or telephone police to report a theft, Goodwin said.

When Lloyd finishes counting, Goodwin said, she will take his final number and consider whether to bring the problem to the Town Council.

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