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Posted: December 10, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Manhole covers being stolen across county

Newton County officials want the public to be on the lookout for both missing manhole covers, and for the people stealing them from neighborhoods across the county.

According to Newton County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer, 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell, manhole covers and storm drain grates have been stolen across the county. Some of the effected neighborhoods are developed; others were started but abandoned when the housing market plummeted.

"In the past couple of weeks we've taken several reports about manhole covers and storm drains being stolen out of neighborhoods," said Mitchell. "And we have stepped up patrol in those neighborhoods. But if anyone sees someone that is not a Public Works employee attempting to take these off, we urge them to call 911."

Deputy Director of Newton County Emergency/Risk Management Jody Nolan said that thefts have occurred twice in the Orchard Park neighborhood off Ga. Highway 142, and that 25 storm drain grates were taken from the River Walk neighborhood, the largest amount in one area thus far.

"They aren't just stealing from the county," explained Nolan, "they are stealing from the taxpayers."

Not only is the theft an expensive inconvenience, it is also potentially hazardous. According to Nolan, the space left in the road from a missing manhole cover is large enough for a large adult to fall through. There is also the potential for car accidents if a driver goes over the open space.

Storm drain grates cost $152.35 apiece, and manhole covers cost $43.67 apiece. The county will have to pay $12,000 to replace the stolen items.

"Those grates are partially in the roadway, so public works have done their best to mark the area with cones and barrels, but they are special order grates and we have to weld them in place when they arrive to prevent them from being stolen again," said Nolan.

Nolan said that due to the weight of the items (40 to 120 pounds each); it is likely that at least two people are responsible. He also said that because of the weight, the getaway vehicle is probably a truck.

Recycling centers have been put on alert that is it a felony for them to receive the manhole covers and drain grates as scrap metal. It is also a felony to possess them.

"More than likely, they have been taken out of the county and sold," Nolan said. "But the county administrators have made it clear that when found, they will prosecute those doing this to the fullest extent of the law."

Along with the manhole covers and drain grates, Snapping Shoals EMC has experienced a rash of copper theft and there have been multiple reports of air conditioner units being stolen from homes both occupied and unoccupied, and of copper wiring being stripped from the walls of new or unoccupied construction.

Anyone with information about any of these thefts is urged to contact the sheriff’s office at (678) 625-1400 or online at www.newtonsheriffga.org. All tips can be given anonymously.

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