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Cruces Losing Manhole Covers

LAS CRUCES – Manhole and water valve covers are being stolen in the East Mesa, costing the city thousands of dollars and prompting authorities to offer a reward to arrest those responsible.

In the past week, 43 water valve covers have been stolen in the vicinity of Northrise Drive and Sonoma Ranch Boulevard while 23 manhole covers have been stolen in the past five months around the East Mesa, officials said.

“We’ve had one or two covers stolen before, but not to this level,” said Eric Lopez, the water and wastewater administrator for Las Cruces Utilities.

Las Cruces Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads police to arrest the person or persons responsible.

Las Cruces Utilities has contacted area scrap metal and recycling operations in hopes of recovering some of the stolen covers.

“We put the word out to keep an eye out. Nothing has been notified to us that the covers were taken to the recyclers,” Lopez said.

Nationwide problem

In recent years, manhole covers have been stolen in several cities across the country, a phenomenon that law enforcement officials attribute to vandals looking to resell them as scrap.

“In general, when scrap metal prices are high, people look for opportunity and, unfortunately, people take advantage of situations,” Mike Robles, owner-manager at USA Can Recycling Warehouse in Las Cruces, said.

The Las Cruces Police Department tells local scrap metal yards to contact detectives if anybody tries to sell items that appear to have been stolen, LCPD spokesman Dan Trujillo said.

“Obviously, the owners of these scrap yards are asked to call 911 if they see anything suspicious,” Trujillo said.

Scrap dealers

However, that does not always happen, Robles said.

“We try as hard as we can not to encourage that activity by not buying such property, but unfortunately, there are a lot of yards that do not take those precautions,” said Robles, who added that his business does not accept any suspicious item or those marked with the city of Las Cruces’ stamp.

“We know what the stuff looks like and we do not take it,” said Robles, whose business also has a video surveillance system that records transactions as well as people entering and leaving the facility.

“We have assisted police on numerous times by giving them video footage of suspects,” Robles said.

Water valve covers cost $15 each while a manhole cover sets the city back around $110. Las Cruces Utilities replaces the stolen covers, and monitors areas where thefts are common, Lopez said.

Besides the inconvenience and financial drain, stolen covers also present public safety risks for pedestrians and motorists.

“Especially when our roadways are covered with rainwater, motorists might not see a manhole is missing,” Trujillo said.

“If you’re driving your car and the wheel drops in (the manhole), that’s not like driving over a puddle or a small pothole. This is a big hole that will stop the car and cause some serious damage,” Lopez added.

Anyone with information on the missing water valve and manhole covers is asked to call Las Cruces Utilities Water Resources Section at (575) 528-3515 and Las Cruces Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS or via text message at LCTIPS (528477).
— This article appeared on page D3 of the Albuquerque Journal