06/10/10 — Thieves swipe copper from tower

View Archive

Thieves swipe copper from tower

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on June 10, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The county's emergency communications radio system suffered a setback recently when vandals removed copper grounding wire from the newly completed tower in Mount Olive.

An unknown suspect or suspects scaled a six-foot fence topped with barbed wire at the third of the county's radio tower sites and stole copper wire and grounding bars worth about $500, according to police reports, leaving the tower vulnerable to lightning strikes.

None of the county-owned towers have ever been vandalized for copper before, but it has been known to happen at other towers, said Wayne County Fire Marshal Brian Taylor, who works with the office of emergency services.

"The vendor that we used to build the towers said he's had to do some of this work for cell phone towers," Taylor said.

Damage to the structure was estimated at $2,000, but the cost of replacing the copper and repairing the damage is still unknown.

The suspect did not damage the equipment inside the tower building to get to the wiring.

"A lot of the copper is exposed anyway and some of it, it's got some protective coating on the outside, but they basically had to cut wires," Taylor said.

Besides the copper wire, the suspect also removed a copper structure known as a buss bar, which functions as the main grounding bar for the system.

In addition to the cost of replacing the copper itself, the repair work will have to meet certain requirements to make sure the grounding is sufficient to protect the tower and the equipment from lightning strikes.

"At this time, of course all the wires and stuff have to be replaced and the grounded buss bars. We're currently getting prices on what it's going to take to do that," he said.

Once the county finds out how much it will cost to make the repairs, it should not take long to fix the problem.

But until the repairs are put into place, every summer thunderstorm could pose a threat to the multimillion-dollar tower.

"Our only concern right now is with the tower up and the antennas on the tower, there is no grounding on the tower," Taylor said.

The actual equipment in the building has been installed but it has not been connected to the tower, so any lightning strike on the unprotected tower would not affect the equipment. It could, however, damage the structure, Taylor said.

The county is taking steps to prevent another theft from occurring.

"We've asked the Mount Olive Police Department if they would to patrol that area a little more, and we're also looking at putting other protections in place," Taylor said.

The Mount Olive tower site is a new site for the communications system and it had just been completed in the last month and a half. The county has two other towers, one in Goldsboro and one in Grantham. Workers were preparing to install more equipment at the tower when they discovered the wires had been cut and removed.

Copper is a frequent target for thieves because of its high resell value.