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Federal bill targets rising metal thefts

News Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501
Detroit Lakes Online
Federal bill targets rising metal thefts
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

MOORHEAD, Minn. - Mike Hanson knows what it's like to be the target of metal thieves.

The president of Aevenia Energy and Electrical Construction said there were seven thefts of copper wire at its Moorhead headquarters last year, costing at least $35,000, and forcing the firm to add security cameras and lock up wire and other material at its job sites.

Aevenia is not alone.

Copper thefts alone cost the nation $900 million a year, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates.

To attack the problem of metals theft, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced Wednesday that they are among those co-sponsoring the Metals Theft Prevention Act.

Klobuchar said the bill will plug holes in a patchwork of laws around the country to fight the thefts.

"There should be at least a floor, not interfering in any way with state laws, but a floor so we can get some requirements in nationally," she said.

The bill would:

• Make it a federal crime to steal wiring and other metals from critical infrastructure, such as electrical grids.

• Include a "Do Not Buy" provision. Scrap dealers must require written documents from sellers detailing their authorization to sell certain metals in their possession.

• Scrap dealers must keep detailed records of sales for two years.

• Purchases of metals for more than $100 must be paid with checks.

Rising world demand for materials such as copper, aluminum, brass and bronze have fueled an increase in stolen metals.

Between 2009 and 2011, there were more than 25,000 metals thefts reported in the U.S., according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That was up 81 percent compared with 2006-2008.

Klobuchar gave several examples of thefts in the region, including the stripping of a church air conditioner for copper in Rochester and the thefts of more than 200 bronze star markers from veterans' graves in Isanti County cemeteries.

"These thieves will stop at nothing to get this high-priced metal and to make a quick buck. From damaging public infrastructure, to stealing from churches, and even from taking bronze stars off of veterans' graves. We must do something about this," Klobuchar said.

Hoeven said North Dakota is one of a few states that do not have laws addressing metal thefts, but he expects one to be introduced in this legislative session. He said the federal bill would give state laws precedence so regulations don't become burdensome to businesses.

"We are pro-business," Hoeven said.

Leaders from the metro area police departments and Cass and Clay sheriff's departments also attended the news conference.

"They're getting pretty gutsy," said Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist, who described how a local elevator had electrical cables for its grain dryers hacked off and stolen for their metal content.

Pat Claus, Fargo's deputy police chief, said his department has taken reports on two metal thefts in the last two days alone.

The announcement was made at Aevenia's headquarters in the Moorhead industrial park.