Copper thieves strike far afield in Placer County

Auburn business uses series of checks and balances to avoid stolen property
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A rash of copper thefts has hit Placer County in recent weeks, with several remote locations losing tens thousands of dollars worth of the metal. The Placer County Water Agency discovered that thieves would go to great lengths – or heights – to get at wire that can be sold for scrap at $2.40 a pound or more. Placer County Sheriff’s Office reports show that 300 pounds of copper cable was stolen from a hillside, where it held down large water pipes that move Middle Fork American River water to the Ralston Powerhouse, near Foresthill. The report estimated the cost to replace the cables at about $20,000. Mike Willihnganz, water agency administrative services director, said 20 copper cables were unbolted and some cut off. Bryant Newcomb, the agency’s risk manager, said it’s the first time thieves have stolen metals at the Ralston Powerhouse – an area that’s generally inaccessible. The cables themselves are located on a steep slope that may have required climbing gear to get at, he said. The former Chevreaux Aggregates plant in Meadow Vista – now called Bear River Aggregates and owned by Green Vista Holdings – was struck in early June. The Combie Road plant lost copper wire with a value of almost $33,000, according to a sheriff’s report. Dan Campbell, project manager, said Teichert Aggregates – which is a partner in the new ownership – said it was the first time the site had been targeted by copper thieves but other Teichert locations in the Sacramento Valley have been victimized. “The plant has been idled by the economy but before we’re able to start up, we’re going to have to do significant work because of the thefts,” Campbell said. In a two-month period, several other locations have been struck, the sheriff’s office reported. In the Sheridan area, Patterson Aggregates on Camp Far West Road had its plant stripped of copper wire. The theft was reported July 13. Days later, a petroleum pumping plant on Carpenter Road lost 224 feet of copper wire. Recyclers in the area are wary of the copper they’re now taking in. John Rowe, Recology manager in Auburn, said the North Auburn recycling facility is no longer accepting copper. New state rules and the suspicion that a high percentage of the copper being accepted was stolen led Recology to make that decision, he said. At Auburn Recycling & Scrap Metals on Sacramento Street, employee Joey Bochenski said the business is continuing to buy copper, as well as brass, steel and most other metals. But it’s doing so with an eye on preventing thefts and working with law enforcement and the public, he said. “For all scrap metals, we take a picture of what is brought in, we get a copy of the person’s driver’s license, a thumbprint, and they have to wait three days for a check,” Bochenski said. Anyone who has metal stolen can contact Auburn Recycling and there have been matches that have led to recovery of stolen property, he said. “Placer County (Sheriff’s Office investigators) call in all the time,” Bochenski said. While the reporting procedure is part of state guidelines, Bochenski said that his suspicion is that copper is being fenced in Sacramento. Prices start at $2.40 a pound at the Sacramento Street location.