BILLINGS- Parts of Billings have been plunged into darkness after thieves ripped at least five miles of copper wiring from city street lights.
Public Works Director Dave Mumford told MTN News Wednesday that four areas of the city’s street system have been targeted: Airport Road, 29th Street West and Overland Ave, Shiloh Road near Zoo Drive, and Aronson Avenue in the Heights.
Mumford said the wiring is being stolen because of the value of the copper, but in the long run, the vandalism will cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in repairs.
”They are prying open the electrical panel on the light poles, cutting the wires and then pulling the wires out of the panel,” Mumford said. “In some cases, we believe they may be attaching the wire cabling to the bumper of a car or truck and just driving away.”
The city is also being forced to install new lock boxes on the electrical panel of each street light to try to foil the thieves.
Perhaps the biggest concern is public safety, Mumford said, with some of the city’s high-traffic areas stuck in darkness until the lights can be repaired.
Billings police are investigating.
Lt. Brandon Wooley said police have no suspects yet, but those responsible could face criminal mischief charges because the damage is over $1,000.
Officials are hoping someone may have witnessed the thieves in action, or may know something about the crimes.
Anyone with information can contact Billings police or the Public Works Department at 406-657-8231 and can remain anonymous.
Mumford says he’s hoping city crews can begin to repair the damage next week.
Officials have checked with local recycling centers to see if anyone has turned in copper wire for cash, but so far no leads in the case.
Mumford acknowledged that copper wire thefts have been a problem for some local construction sites, but said this is the first time he’s seen thieves targeting light poles.
-Jay Kohn reporting for MTN News