A resurgence of wire theft has driven up expenses for the City of Langley.
An update to council by Rick Bomhof, director of Engineering, Parks and Environment, said total spending on repairs to damaged street lights and junction boxes was about two-and-a-half times the entire repair budget for the year.
As of mid-April, the cost of repairs had reached $31,000, well over the annual budgeted amount of $12,400.
During one six-week period, the City recorded an average of one incident a week at a variety of locations including sites along Fraser Highway and Salt Lane in the downtown core.
Councillor Nathan Pachal saw the aftermath of one incident at a set of traffic lights.
“Someone ripped apart one of the traffic signals wires,” Pachal told council.
“It’s just amazing how people will jeopardize other people’s public safety.”
Bomhof said if residents see people stealing wires they should call police at 911.
If they see a damaged utility pole or junction box, but no people at the scene and no potential safety hazard such as a live wire, they should report the damage to the City by calling the after-hours non-emergency fire department line at 604-514-2880 and leave a message.
Municipal crews have replaced over 2,500 metres of wire so far.
The City is switching from copper wires to aluminum wires, stamped “City of Langley” in a bid to discourage thefts.
The resurgence in wire theft comes after incidents plummeted in B.C. when an anti-metal theft law was passed in 2012 that requires licensed metal dealers and recyclers to keep records of the type of metal they buy and to record the identities of the people they buy it from.
Buyers must also report their purchases to police.
As well, sellers of certain types of metal have to show a driver’s licence or B.C. Identification Card.
In the first year after the law took effect, the number of wire thefts reported by BC Hydro dropped 46 per cent.
The problem had peaked in 2011, one of the worst years for wire theft, when the City spent over $180,000 on wire theft-related issues, a year when the municipality had budgeted $10,900 for repairs.
After 2012, the City started to see a steady decline in wire theft.
The current spike in wire and metal theft incidents comes as copper commodity prices increase on world markets, rising roughly 20 per cent over last year.
Some analysts have suggested the increase is partly due to increased demand for copper created by the rising popularity of electric vehicles, which need four to five times more copper than gasoline-powered vehicles.
There has been a rash of incidents reported in other B.C. communities this year
In one case, RCMP arrested three people for causing approximately $100,000 worth of damage at the old Catalyst Paper mill near Campbell River while attempting to steal copper wire.
Nanaimo RCMP were investigating thefts of approximately $100,000 worth of copper electrical wire.
Hydro spokesperson Karla Louwers called it “an extremely dangerous crime that not only exposes the perpetrators, but our employees, customers as well as the general public to significant risk.”
Louwers went on to say B.C. Hydro loses about $1 million due to metal theft annually.
And Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers and Metro Vancouver Transit Police warned thieves have been cutting and stealing live 600-volt copper trolley bus wires.
“Each incident has the potential to create lengthy service delays and can incur replacement costs of several thousand dollars up to $50,000,” a joint statement said.
In January, a wire theft in the area of Blanca Street and West 7th Avenue in Vancouver left live trolley wires hanging low over a sidewalk.
The Township of Langley, which has deployed a number of anti-theft design measures that make it harder for thieves to get at wires inside utility poles, has not reported a spike in wire theft.
The latest Langley City wire theft incidents have been reported to police.
If you can assist police with their investigation, call Langley RCMP at 604-532-3200.