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Storm grate thefts plague Butler County

Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Jefferson Township road foreman Bill Foertsch inspects a storm drain where a steel grate had been stolen along Greatbelt Road in Jefferson Township on Friday November 9, 2012.

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To report odd activity

Call state police at 724-477-3137 or 911. A Butler state police corporal said troopers continue to patrol Jefferson and the rest of Butler County, but citizens may see something first.

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Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 6:54 p.m.

Jefferson faces paying about $10,000 to replace more than two dozen storm sewer grates stolen recently, and the thefts may cause delays in road repairs.

“Since Sept. 28, we've spent about $7,800, and that doesn't include employee overtime and gas costs,” Supervisor Rodger Davis said. “It's adding up to about $10,000,” he said.

“We're up to 29 stolen now. We used to think that they were being taken only at night, but now we know some of them have been taken in the daylight,” he said.

As of Friday, no arrests had been made in the case, said state police at Butler. Jefferson has no police force.

“We are asking every township resident to keep their eyes open and call police when they see anything or anyone suspicious,” Davis said.

Butler County District Attorney Richard A. Goldinger said anyone arrested for taking the grates, in addition to theft charges, will face reckless endangerment charges.

“If a driver or walker is injured by driving or falling into a grate hole, then additional charges would be filed against anyone found guilty of causing the injury,” he said. “Each case is individual, and it would depend on how bad of an injury.”

Goldinger lives nearby in Penn Township.

“Someone even took a grate from the street right around the corner from us,” he said.

Authorities said they believe scrap scavengers are stealing them to sell.

Penn Township police said nine grates worth about $3,000 have been taken there. State police said thieves took grates recently in Clearfield, Donegal and Summit townships.

Some grates may be owned by PennDOT. Spokeswoman Deborah L. Schreckengost Casadei said the problem is not new and PennDOT has started welding replacement grates into place to discourage theft.

In the past three weeks, 22 PennDOT grates have been removed, said Jeffrey Hartzell, the assistant district manager for PennDOT's Butler office. PennDOT pays about $230 per grate.

“There are still a huge number out there, and we haven't gotten to all of them. Some places we have one about every 200 feet,” said, Hartzell, a Jefferson resident. “Welding ... is making it hard on maintenance.”

Jefferson road foreman William Foertsch said he and the other two workers are fabricating grates because some types are no longer in stock at dealers, he said.

Saw horses and blinking lights are being used at two sites where grates have been removed.

“We have to warn people,” Foertsch said.

He said police and township workers can't find a clear pattern to where the grates are being taken.

In a recent census, Jefferson had 5,690 residents, and 60 percent of them lived in a rural setting. Few residents mean few witnesses who can get license plate or other information about the thieves.

“We still need people to call police if they see anything that is suspicious – like someone lifting up a grate or two or more carrying one. Each one weighs 150 to 200 pounds,” Davis said.

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

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