Thieves who have been stealing copper wire from off utility poles on St. Croix aren’t just hurting Innovative Telephone. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority has lost three and a half miles of copper cable, a cost that is born by the ratepayers, Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said Thursday.
Innovative has been hit six times in four weeks, and each time the theft of cable has left a neighborhood without phone service. The company has had to take teams off of other work sites to reconnect those areas, at additional costs.
On Thursday Hodge decried the continuing theft of copper, which has affected WAPA as well, and ultimately the ratepayers. Even St. Croix’s schools have been affected, he said.
According to Hodge, repairs to streetlights on St. Croix’s Melvin H. Evans Highway have been stymied by the theft of copper, which has left long spans of the highway in darkness. Thieves have made off with more than19,000 feet of wire from the highway lights, three and a half miles worth.
“This is extremely costly to the authority, frustrating to line crews working diligently to make the repairs, and presents impediments to motorists who travel the highway nightly,” Hodge said. “To repeatedly fix lights only for the copper to be stolen is an exercise in futility.”
Hodge added that the cost of repairs must ultimately be passed on to WAPA customers.
Copper thieves have apparently also impacted the authority’s project to replace pole mounted transformers with pad mounted transformers at six St. Croix public schools, the Department of Education’s Curriculum Center and VITEMA headquarters. Thieves recently vandalized the construction site at the Charles Emanuel School, Hodge said.
The work designed to increase electrical service reliability and safety at these facilities is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration at a total cost of $814,255.
“Again, the damage to a transformer, riser pole conduit, cables and locks by those seeking money for metal not only delays our work and forces the authority to search for internal funds to replace the damaged installations, but it is clear that these would-be thieves apparently have no scruples as to whom they will steal from or facilities they will damage for their own selfish gains," Hodge said. "It is very disheartening.”
He said copper bandits have also stolen wire from the primary riser at the site of the Boys and Girls Club in downtown Christiansted and the absence of ground wires which have been cut from poles across the island have contributed to outages at the power plant when heavy surges occur on the system.
Hodge said the V.I. Police Department has launched an investigation and all people found guilty of the theft of any part of the authority’s infrastructure will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
He added that not only is cutting and stealing power lines a crime, it’s also a risk of life and limb.
"It’s very dangerous," he said.
Anyone with information about the theft of copper wire from WAPA facilities can report to VIPD, or WAPA’s Internal Audit Revenue Assurance Division by calling 1-340-715-6563 or sending an email to email@example.com.
Anonymous reports can be made by contacting Crime Stoppers VI at 1-800-222-8477 or www.crimestoppersusvi.org.