HELENA – The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) are warning the public that shooting utility power poles is not only illegal, but also dangerous.
Over the past 6 months LCSO has received multiple reports of shooting damage to power poles in the Bureau of Land Management North Hills recreational area.
Some wood poles had been shot completely through and people had also targeted steel poles.
Sheriff Leo Dutton says shooting a pole can decrease the integrity of the pole and increase the potential of a downed line.
“The danger is that if you shoot a pole enough times it’s going to lean over and pull down the whole line,” explained Dutton. “Now if there’s people in the area, that can put an electric charge into the ground that can kill people.”
A downed power line can also potentially start a fire.
Recently Northwestern Energy put up signs in the area asking people not to shoot the poles.
Those signs were later found with bullet holes.
“We put up a sign asking gun users to aim away from utility poles and equipment and that sign was shot by vandals in just a few days,” said Joe Havens, NorthWestern Energy Senior Engineer. “These vandals are creating a risk for our customers and our crews. This is a real threat to service reliability and to the safety of our personnel.”
More recently a vandal was shooting at poles when a NorthWestern Energy crew was in the area.
“Power poles are not targets,” added Dutton, “please don’t shoot them because it is criminal mischief. You can and will be charged if there is substantial evidence.”
Dutton said his office respects the values of shooting as a hobby or sport, and asks the public to report those that are giving it a bad name.
“If you see somebody shooting down at a power pole, write down a license plate. We’d love to go visit with them,” said Dutton. “You’ve been given the freedom by the Second Amendment of having a weapon. Now be responsible so you don’t ruin it for other people.”
NorthWestern Energy says transmission poles cost almost $4,000 each. Damage to a pole could result in a felony charge of criminal mischief under Montana Code Annotated 45-6-10.
If convicted, a person can be fined an amount not to exceed $50,000 or be imprisoned in the state prison for a term not to exceed 10 years.