NORTHPORT, Maine — Some summer residents getting ready to return to their Bayside village homes are in for a nasty, expensive surprise, as plumbers have discovered that their copper pipes are missing when they’ve gone to hook up the water for the season.
“It’s sort of a shock to everybody,” Bill Paige, who works for the Northport Village Corp. Water Department, said on Tuesday. “It’s happening all over the place.”
He said that six summer cottages so far have been found to have their pipes cut or ripped out by thieves who then haul away the scrap metal to sell it for cash. Scrap-metal dealers around midcoast Maine and Bangor are purchasing copper for between $2.35 and $3 a pound.
“There could be more,” Paige said. “We don’t know at this point. They’re not all checked yet.”
The thefts have slowed down his own work repairing and maintaining the community’s water department because thieves also broke into the Bayside Village storage shed near a water reservoir and stole a large inventory of copper pipes and fittings.
Paige estimated that it would cost “well over $1,000,” and possibly $2,000, to replace the village’s copper fittings.
“For a small place like that, that’s a lot of money,” he said.
Bayside is a small village just off Route 1 that is incorporated within the town of Northport. It has about 300 residents, with about half living there only in the summertime, according to Northport Village Corp. office manager Paul Bartels.
The community was founded in the 1850s as a Methodist summer camp, and many of the small Victorian cottages built at that time make a colorful rainbow overlooking Penobscot Bay.
It’s generally a peaceful place without much crime to speak of, according to longtime resident Ned Lightner, who spent his summers there as a child and whose copper pipes are still intact.
“Although we have a summer policeman, really what we’re doing is making sure things are quiet in the evening and that fires on the beach are not too close to structures,” he said. “We don’t have to deal with rowdy drunks or anything like that.”
He said that this spring’s growing problem with stolen copper piping does feel like a violation.
“When we come up to enjoy our weekends, and discover there’s no plumbing, it really does put a damper on things,” Lightner said. “Pun intended.”
He said that replacing copper piping is expensive and much more complicated than just cutting it out.
The thieves have been able to steal the piping without breaking into the houses because many of the summer seasonal homes are built using a pier construction method and have crawl spaces underneath instead of foundations and cellars. People who have taken the copper piping have just gone under the houses to cut or rip it out.
Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office said the thefts are under investigation.
“This is a scenario that’s happening all over Waldo County, and I think it’s happening all over the state,” he said.
He said that the thefts began in earnest a few years ago, when junk metal prices first went up. Thieves target vacant houses, including those for sale or those occupied only seasonally. He predicts that as more people begin to open up their camps this year, they will find they have been targeted.
“They go in and rip it out, and they don’t care how much damage they do to the home while they’re at it,” he said of the metal thieves.
The problem of metal theft has been time-consuming for police departments around the state. On Friday, Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill that plugs loopholes in Maine’s current law, which prohibits the sale of scrap metal obtained illegally and prevents junk metal dealers from paying cash for metal.
Under the new law, metal sellers will have to sign statements attesting they own or are authorized to sell the scrap metal. Rules for checking the identification of sellers also were tightened up.
Paige said that police and Bayside residents have been working to deter more thefts.
“They’re watching pretty close now,” he said. “The homeowners are getting pretty antsy. Everybody’s got their eyes open now. They’re paying attention.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.