I must admit I hadn’t thought much about copper thefts in recent months, with all my trade show travel and the nation’s economy slowing work for many contractors.

Snips has written several times about the issue, both on this page and in features (see “Copper and robbers,” October 2007), and I wasn’t sure there was much more to say.

But that was until I saw some columns and editorials on metals thefts in the April 2 edition of the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit’s ongoing problems with urban blight and the loss of jobs and population are known worldwide, but in recent years, its abandoned and vacant homes and businesses have become “copper mines” for metal thieves.

In one of the three articles on copper thefts in that day’s paper, a former museum director told how her historic, renovated home was broken into twice within a week. Although the first burglar was caught, the next one managed to remove copper plumbing and antique fixtures, and undo years of hard, expensive work the woman had done to the home.

Another editorial called for the state to toughen its rules on scrap dealers and would-be thieves. State lawmakers have proposed bills to do just that, as have legislators in dozens of other states.

But a different columnist at the paper noted that in a city with as high a crime rate as Detroit, small-scale metals thieves would be a low priority for law enforcement. And, the writer added, many of these criminals are willing to risk their lives for the precious metal, cutting natural gas lines or climbing up electrical poles. Additional fines or even the threat of jail are unlikely to dissuade many of them as long as metal’s resale value remains high.

In the case of scrap dealers, a lobbyist for the industry once told me many find it hard to tell the difference between legitimate materials and something removed illegally.

With the large amount of copper used in many HVAC systems and in much architectural work, a lot of sheet metal contractors have been victims of metal thieves themselves. I’d like to know what you think. What is the solution? More fines? Jail? Or will we just have to wait until the price of copper falls? I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.

Write me at Snips magazine, BNP Media, 2401 W. Big Beaver Road, Suite 700, Troy, MI 48084, or e-mail to mcconnellm@bnpmedia.com. Include your name and title, as well as your company’s name and location, and a way to contact you. We may print the letters on this page.

Letters

Losing work to newcomers in California

I was reading your column in the March Snips (“Taking the temperature of the industry in 2008,” Editor’s Page) and it prompted me to write to you about one of the impacts the latest economic slowdown is having on our commercial business.

There are several heating and air conditioning contractors in our community who have primarily been residential contractors. Since the housing slowdown, they have been trying to bid on plan-and-spec commercial projects.

This specialized field requires considerable experience in the bidding process. We have lost bids on these projects by 20 percent or more to contractors who have little or no experience in commercial work.

I guess it is a sign of the times, but it is frustrating to those of us who have been bidding commercial work for years only to lose work to contractors who have no experience at all.

George Wakefield

Commercial estimator

Timberline Heating and AC

Redding, Calif.