CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The head of the state recyclers association and telephone industry executives stood up with Kanawha County officials on Wednesday to praise a law they hope will help stem a rash of copper thefts in the area.
Last week, Kanawha County commissioners gave preliminary approval to a ordinance that requires owners of pawn shops and scrap yards to enter information about sellers into computer databases. The scrap yard requirements are aimed at helping identify those who steal copper wire and try to sell it for cash.
"The recycling industry is not the problem," said County Commission President Kent Carper. "They're a big part of the solution. The bad guys are the ones who are stealing the copper."
As prices for scrap copper rise, copper theft has become a huge problem nationwide, with power lines and telephone wires becoming a major target for thieves. The problem is that stealing wire deprives people of electricity and telephone service until the lines can be repaired.
"Many of these people are elderly, and many of them are shut-ins," Carper said. "Many of these folks depend upon the phone for their lives."
As officials were waiting for Wednesday's press conference to start, word came in to the Kanawha County Metro 911 Center that about 200 people in Campbells Creek were without telephone service because someone stole about 80 feet of phone line.
Dennis Bloss, area general manager for Frontier Communications, said that officials in the electricity and telephone industry believe copper theft is a serious and dangerous crime. If someone dies because they can't call 911 due to copper theft, "it's involuntary manslaughter as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Roland Fisher, president of the West Virginia Recyclers Association, praised county officials for working with recyclers and electric and telephone industry leaders to draft a law that all agreed would help track down and stop copper thieves. "We've got government, law enforcement and industry together," he said. "The bottom line is, [the thieves] are the ones that are causing all the problems."
But both Fisher and Bloss said stealing copper should have stiffer penalties. Fisher said copper thieves often get arrested and get little more than a slap on the wrist before they're back stealing copper again.
Carper said Kanawha County officials will urge the state Legislature to pass a law creating tougher penalties for stealing copper.
County commissioners will vote on the final version of the new ordinance June 9; if approved, the ordinance would to go into effect the next day.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.