Storm sewer grates stolen in Jefferson Township

Chuck Biedka
| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 12:33 a.m.

Someone has stolen at least 15 storm sewer grates from roads in Jefferson Township, officials say.

As many as six were taken Monday night from Great Belt Road, said township Supervisor Lois Rankin.

“We are out of (replacement) grates,” she said. “It's really become a dangerous situation. They've put sawhorses over the holes.”

Each of the grates weighs between 120 and 200 pounds and requires at least two men to pick them up.

Most of the grates are on the side of a road. But the thefts are creating a hazard because, until the grates can be replaced, motorists could drive into the holes at night or in bad weather, said William Foertsch, road foreman.

“They leave a 2-by-4-foot hole and a drop of 30 inches or so,” Foertsch said. “Dangerous? Yes.”

Foertsch said grates have been taken within the past month or so from Jefferson, Mushrush and Bull Creek roads.

Even though grates usually can easily be identified by scrap dealers, some people take a chance trying to sell them.

“We don't want to buy stolen goods, but we are in the business to buy scrap,” said Jim Tomson, who owns Tomson Scrap Metal in Brackenridge.If someone brings in something suspicious, legitimate dealers turn the people away or they get a license number and other information from the seller, Tomson said.

“And if the police alert us about something in particular and we see what they are looking for, we will call the police,” he said.

Tomson said that several years ago someone brought in some grates tucked under other scrap.

“We didn't see the grates right away,” he said. “Our crane operator is supposed to separate the stuff. Well, that didn't happen that time, and we didn't find the grates until later. By then, a police officer was asking us why we bought stolen material.

“We didn't, and we gave police information to identify the people who brought it in,” Tomson said.

“Legitimate scrap dealers have no interest in stolen goods and they cooperate with police,” said Gary Bush, an ex-cop and investigator for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc.The Washington, D.C.-based ISRI sponsors an email alert network telling scrap companies and police about thefts.

“Sewer grates are certainly identifiable, and legitimate dealers would be watchful,” Bush said.

In the past six months, the ISRI newsletter has included news about scrap thefts from the ATI-Allegheny Ludlum steel mill at Harrison and elsewhere across the country.Jefferson Township still has to replace the grates at a cost of at least $2,000.

State police continue to investigate the thefts in Jefferson Township and the theft of one grate in neighboring Winfield.

Road signs targeted, too

This fall, someone has pulled down stop signs, speed limit signs and some road signs.

In one case, at a four-way stop, all four signs were pulled down, Foertsch said.

“We put up all four and, in a day, one of them was back down,” he said.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or Staff writer Jodi Weigand contributed.

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