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Copper thefts lead to frustrations

HOW DO COPPER THIEVES DO IT? That question comes from Shirley, who emails, “I know the city has a problem with numerous street lights being out, and often the answer is ‘copper thieves.’ My questions is, how do these thieves get away with it? Do they steal the copper in broad daylight? Or do they work under the cover of darkness? And how is it possible that no one sees this?

“You might say that I sound frustrated, and that would be correct.”

So is every resident and driver making their way in the dark, as well as ratepayers who ultimately cover repairs.

I have received calls from readers who learned thieves had hitched their vehicle to wire in a streetlight and driven off, pulling yards of wire to try to turn into cash. And from government employees who have decided to stop replacing lights on bike bridges and in parks because they disappear as soon as they are replaced.

Meaghan Cavanaugh, who handles corporate communications for Public Service Company of New Mexico, explains, “Copper theft is an issue that affects communities and businesses all over the state. In many cases the theft can be done quickly, and if done under the cloak of night, can often go unseen. PNM does not know when most copper theft occurs, but it does make sense that it may be easier to conceal once the sun goes down.”

And of course once the copper wire is out, there’s no light to shine on the vandals.

WHY DO REPAIRS TAKE SO LONG? As for getting the lights back on, Cavanaugh says, “PNM doesn’t know if a streetlight is out until the customer reports it. Once we have a report of a streetlight out, a crew will visit the scene and assess why that light is out. If they discover copper theft, they have to assess the damage done to the light and the wires, and figure out the amount of wire that was stolen. Once we have the information needed, permits are needed to do the work, materials need to be gathered and/or ordered, and a crew has to be scheduled to make the repairs. Unfortunately, this process can take a little time, and there are times when the crew has gone back to the scene to make the repairs, only to discover additional theft or damage has occurred in the same area. If the wire is underground, this can add time for repairs as well, because crews may have to dig, completely new lines may have to be run, and we often need to coordinate with the city if we are doing work in high-traffic areas that may affect the traffic flow with us being there.”

And remember, fixing vandalized street lights, while important, is not an emergency like much of PNM crews’ work.

“While the crews do handle streetlight repairs in between jobs they may be working on,” Cavanaugh explains, “power outages, public safety issues like leaning or downed poles and other emergent work take priority over streetlight repair. During a busy time of year with strong weather, it may take longer to repair streetlights because the crews’ priority is to safely keep the lights on for the communities we serve.”

ALAMEDA WILL EXPAND ALONG WITH THE BUILDINGS: Bruce Hoover called and emails to ask, “Why is the city allowing all of the construction of a retail center and housing on Alameda without first requiring the owners to widen Alameda to four lanes prior to construction? I don’t get it.”

The city is in fact requiring the boulevard be widened; it’s just that the road construction permitting process takes a bit longer than the building construction one.

Carmelina Hart, public information coordinator for the city’s Planning Department, says grading then road improvements are on the way. “Alameda will eventually be four lanes between San Pedro and Louisiana. There will not be any turn bays, but the center turn lanes will remain.”

IT’S STILL DONATE LIFE MONTH: And you can register to be an organ donor when you get your driver’s license or ID card. In fact, more than 98 percent of New Mexicans who register as a donor sign up at the Motor Vehicle Division.

That’s important, because according to new Mexico Donor Services: “Over 113,000 people, including 770 New Mexicans, await life-saving organ transplants. Every 10 minutes, a new name is added to the waiting list. Every day, 22 people die because the organ they need is not donated in time. One donor can save eight lives through organ donation and restore more than 75 lives through eye and tissue donation.”

And you don’t have to wait for a trip to the MVD – or next April. Register any time at

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, N.M., 87109.


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