Tougher laws needed for metal theft

More needs to be done to combat scrap metal thefts, which cost utility companies millions and cut off 911 service to unsuspecting residents, says a Maple Ridge scrap dealer.

More needs to be done to combat scrap metal thefts, which cost utility companies millions and cut off 911 service to unsuspecting residents, says a Maple Ridge scrap dealer.

Mike Salo is the owner of Fraser Valley Metal Exchange, on Fisherman Road in Maple Ridge, and he wants police to crack down on shady scrap dealers buying stolen metal.

“There’s honest scrap yards, and there’s dishonest scrap yards, and those guys should have their business licenses pulled,” Salo said.

Last month, 911 emergency service was cut off to more than 500 residents in east Maple Ridge after thieves stole copper telephone lines along 272nd Street.

In October, three commemorative bronze plaques on the Pitt River Bridge were stolen, and later turned up at a scrap metal dealer cut into more than 30 pieces. The plaques, which had been secured by titanium rods, weighed more than 600 pounds combined. In September, more than $13,000 of copper wiring was stripped from a closed down sawmill on River Road.

Salo said he would like to see a system developed where scrap metal dealers are informed of any metal thefts so they can be on the look-out for the stolen merchandise.

“Even an email from the police would work,” he said.

Telus spokesperson Shawn Hall said the typical copper telephone line theft costs the company an average of $50,000 per incident, and nets thieves just a couple hundred dollars.

With roughly 200 incidents in the Lower Mainland annually, scrap metal theft costs Telus in the range of $10 million every year.

More significantly, however, is that copper wire thefts often cut 911 service, which can endanger lives should they encounter an emergency.

“These are not victimless crimes,” said Hall. “They are putting our customers’ lives at risk.”

Telus is spending more than $650 million over the next year to replace much of their copper cable with high-speed fibre optics, which are worthless to thieves.

Telus has also been actively lobbying provincial and municipal governments to enact legislation that would make it more difficult for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal, and make it easier for police to prosecute them.

“We’d like to see things like closed-circuit TV, so police can identify thieves” said Hall. “Most of the [scrap metal dealers] already do that stuff, but there are bad apples out there, and we want police to be able to pull their business licenses.”

Richmond and Vancouver have already adopted tougher laws, which Hall said has reduced thefts there.

“But what we really need is a blanket of good bylaws in the Lower Mainland that are similar and enforceable,” he said.

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin says he would support such local bylaws, but believes it would do little to solve the problem unless they were part of a coordinated effort with other municipalities.

“There needs to be a regionally coordinated take on it,” he said. “If we [pass a bylaw] and Chilliwack doesn’t, then they’ll just go there.”

Daykin said he would like to see legislation that requires scrap metal dealers to require identification and addresses from the people they buy from, as well as require information on where the metal came from.

“They should also hold on to the material for a certain time frame,” Daykin said, so if the metal is stolen, there’s a chance of recovering it before it gets recycled.

Coun. Craig Spiers, discussing the issue at Maple Ridge council’s workshop meeting Monday, said the provincial government needs to take the lead on this issue.

“They could knee-cap this whole industry if they wanted,” he said. “Why the provincial government hasn’t reacted, I don’t understand.

“[It] has to take responsibility.”

However, Salo doesn’t believe more regulations, which could prove to be costly to implement, are necessarily the answer. His scrap yard already requires government approved picture identification for every customer, and that should be enough.

“We already give our customers the third degree, and if we think it’s stolen, we refuse them,” he said.

“But they just go to someone else down the road.

“The police know who the bad guys are, they just need to do something.”

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