Jeremy Gaston | Editor
The sporadic theft of metal to be sold as scrap has increased from
isolated incidents to a rash of thefts, hitting Osage County’s
rural electrical companies the hardest.
The scores range from copper piping in abandoned homes to ground
rods at power stations, but the most recent round of thefts have
been concentrated on ground wires attached to utility poles.
“It’s been going on since the price of copper went up,”
said Dan O’Brien, general manager of Kaw Valley Electric Cooperative.
“We’re getting hit, especially around the Burlingame
Lyon-Coffey Electric Cooperative, Inc., has seen theft of copper
grounds on almost 200 of their poles between Osage and Wabaunsee
“As of Monday, we’ve repaired 195 pole locations,”
said Mark Doebele, line superintendent at LCEC. “It’s
Doebele estimated the material loss at around $4,500, with another
$10,000 in labor.
“Last week, we had almost three-fourth of our crews out there
working on this at some time during the week,” he said. “Every
day when we drive down the roads we’re looking at our lines.
If we notice something like this we usually investigate a little
LCEC first noticed the grounds missing on poles Nov. 1. Investigation
has turned up poles north, west and south of Osage City all the
way to Admire.
“We’re clear up by Eskridge and finding them at Melvern
Lake,” Doebele said, noting that the thefts appear to have
happened recently. “We’re not very far behind them in
finding these things. You can still see footprints and tire tracks.
You know it hasn’t been too long.”
The catalyst has been the steady rise of copper, which currently
trades for almost $4 pound. Overseas demand, particularly from China,
has kept the demand high as the price of many metals fell.
The value of removing the ground wire from a single pole theft,
however, ranks lower, with each wire only weighing a couple pounds
and scrap prices for copper beginning at just $2 per pound.
The replacement value and degradation of the system grossly outweigh
“When those grounds are removed, it exposes failures in the
system,” O’Brien said. “Your reduce protection
on the system.”
Both companies operate a multi-grounded system, where every pole
“Keeps the system balanced, and our voltage levels balanced,”
Doebele said. “It works out better for us to have a grounded
The grounds help handle lightning and other power surges. They also
carry small voltage down the line. That voltage increases as more
lines are removed.
“Current takes the path of least resistance, but it’s
taking all the paths,” Doebele said. “When you remove
them, you’re losing paths. There’s a risk there, and
there’s been lots of cases in the past two years of people
The wire coating is burned off, leaving pieces of scrap that are
hard to identify.
Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn had a pile of wire on her desk
when called Tuesday by The Herald-Chronicle. It had been found in
possession of an individual this summer.
“We’re investigating it and following any leads,”
Dunn said. “We haven’t had anything significant.”
Independently, LCEC has inspected purchased copper that matched
the style and manufacturing used by the company.
“We have seen scrap there that could have been ours,”
Doebele said. “We have certain connectors that a lot of the
local companies do not use. They appeared to have come off poles
that were ours at one time. It’s one of those things that’s
really hard to prove. You almost have to catch them red-handed.”
LCEC has begun contacting its customers, encouraging them to report
any suspicious activity. Dunn echoed the statement.
“If anyone sees anyone suspicious at these locations, or parked
along county roads late at night, they should call us,” Dunn
said. “We’ll come out there and check it out. It could
be someone broke down, or it could be the person taking the copper.”
Companies have gone a step further in preventing theft, installing
less valuable conductors in place of lines that have been removed.
“We replacing them with copper-coated steel, which isn’t
worth anything,” O’Brien said. “The solid value
isn’t worth anything.”
Dunn said she believes the thefts are the work of a small group
making repeated thefts in different areas. She encourages anyone
with information to call Osage County Crimestoppers at (800) OSCRIME,
or the sheriff’s office at (785) 828-3121. A reward of up
to $1,000 is available.
“That reward would be nice at Christmas time,” Dunn
Copper thefts in northeast Kansas
• On Oct. 27, Crimestoppers in Topeka reported a water pumping
station in Topeka was stripped of its copper, causing more than
$200,000 damage to the building.
• On Oct. 11, The Kansas City Star reported theft has been
an ongoing issue in abandoned houses in Kansas City, where piping
is stolen, devaluing the houses. Prosecution is made more difficult
when houses are owned by out of state banks. The Star reported an
individual who had been arrested 12 times, but couldn’t be
prosecuted due to lack of cooperation of the home owners.