BENNINGTON -- FairPoint Communications is offering money for tips that lead to arrests and convictions for the theft of copper as the frequency of the dangerous activity continues to rise.
Across the state FairPoint has been victim to an estimated $20,000 worth of copper thefts (8,000 feet of copper) since the start of the year. Many of the instances have taken place in Southern Vermont including the towns of Readsboro, Jamaica, Dover and Townshend.
Now, the communications provider is offering up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for these thefts, depending on the severity of the crime.
This is the first time the company has offered rewards for information regarding thefts, which spokeswoman Sabina Haskell said is primarily due to safety risks thieves put themselves and others in, as well as the increased frequency of thefts.
"The number of cases of copper theft have been increasing, not just for us alone, but also the electric companies and other manufacturers that use copper," she said. "It’s an important enough issue, particularly from the safety standpoint, we wanted to take the next step."
Haskell described two different ways the copper has been stolen -- from thieves breaking into cable yards and stealing spools of copper wire, and the very dangerous method of climbing utility poles and cutting copper off, as happened in Townshend.
When the company replaces wires, old material is often left on the line for a brief period. Thieves in the past have cut those old copper wires down, although they face the risk of cutting a live wire, which could result in serious injury or death. It would also cause disruptions for people relying on those lines, which poses another potentially serious danger.
"It can cause loss of service for folks who need emergency services and there is the added concern that an untrained person removing cable could be injured," said Marc Lussier, senior manager of security for FairPoint.
After stealing copper, the thieves then sell it to scrap metal yards. Because the cost of copper and other scrap metals has gone up, so have thefts of those metals, Haskell said.
According to the Department of Energy, copper thefts account for almost $1 billion annually.
FairPoint is working closely with law enforcement agencies to investigate the copper crimes.
People with information regarding the copper thefts are encouraged to contact local law enforcement, or they may confidentially call Lussier at 603-656-8222.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at email@example.com or on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi