What's Buggin' You? Sacramento Co. street lamp outages caused by copper wire theft

5:08 PM, Oct 29, 2011   |    comments
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CARMICHAEL, CA -- Neighborhoods all over Sacramento County are literally in the dark because street lamps are out everywhere. One News10 viewer was so bugged by the problem, she got in touch with reporter Kate Larsen for some help.

Here's Kate's account of the street lamp outages:

Cathy Flowers recalled back in August that the only street lamp outside her Carmichael apartment was out.  "I noticed it was about 6 o'clock at night and it was dark out and I said this is odd, the lights are supposed to be on," Flowers said.

Flowers' apartment is on a busy stretch of Fair Oaks Boulevard where cars zip by very quickly. "With kids playing, people walking, cars driving by, I get concerned with cars driving and there's no street light," Flowers added.

So I went out to take a look.  It was so dark on the street it was difficult to see even the lamp pole, but once we put our camera light on the problem, things got a lot more clear.

The metal access plate to the lamp pole was unscrewed and lying on the ground, exposing what was left of the lamp's copper wiring, which clearly had been yanked out of the pole. The plate was secured by one standard screw that could easily be removed with a screw driver.

The Sacramento County Department of Transportation told me thieves ripping off copper wire to sell for profit have caused almost 2,000 street lamp outages since the beginning of 2010.

About 800 lamps have been repaired, but there's a backlog of another 1,000 lamps that the county hopes to fix by the end of the year.

"The problem with wire theft has escalated in recent months and that is mostly due to the increase in value of copper itself," said Reza Moghissi, who heads maintenance and operations at the county's Department of Transportation. 

Copper prices have more than doubled over the past three years.  In October of 2008, copper was valued around $1.50 per pound and now it's at about $3.30 per pound.

Moghissi said when you add up the cost of repair, labor and new wire, it costs about $200 to fix one lamp.  He estimated Sacramento County will spend an extra $400,000 by the end of the year fixing street lamps broken by copper wire thieves.

I asked Moghissi where the money was coming from to pay for the repairs, and he said from department's other programs such as road repairs, signs, and landscape and tree maintenance.

I also asked Moghissi when he would be able to fix the broken street lamp outside Flowers' Carmichael apartment, and he wasn't able to give me an exact time frame.  But low and behold, I was informed later in the day that county crews would be fixing the lamp the next day.

We went to the apartments and watched the crews re-wire the lamp. It may only be one of a thousand lamps fixed in Sacramento County, but it is clearly making a difference to the people who live in the area.

The apartment manager, Jesse Hall, showed up to observe the  repairs and said it was an improvement. "I think it will make everybody feel a lot safer. This parking lot needed more light, with that light being out it definitely was a nuisance."

If there is a street lamp out in your neighborhood and you live in unincorporated Sacramento County or Rancho Cordova, you can contact the Sacramento County Department of Transportation at (916) 875-5171.

So what's buggin' you?

If there is something in your neighborhood or community that is bugging you, please let me know. You can email me at bugkate@news10.net

News10/KXTV

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