Storm drain covers stolen in Griswold

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Tue., Jan. 14, 2014
Town road crews quickly replaced the missing storm drain grates stolen from several neighborhoods in Griswold last week. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Town road crews quickly replaced the missing storm drain grates stolen from several neighborhoods in Griswold last week. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

State police are investigating the theft of 18 metal storm drain grates from Griswold’s streets earlier this month. Though the grates were quickly replaced, town officials asked residents to be vigilant, since similar crimes have occurred in neighboring towns.

First Selectman Kevin Skulczyck said that the thefts were scattered throughout town in residential locations, and occurred at the height of the “polar vortex” and its sub-zero temperatures. “We think it was multiple people, maybe a driver and two guys, because of the weight,” he said. Each grate weighs close to 100 pounds, and “they’re not easy to get out, especially when it’s kind of cold and wet,” said Skulczck.

“I honestly hate to say this, but I think this was a more organized group than you normally have,” said Skulczyck, referring to the theft of copper pipes from vacant houses. The thefts occurred in quiet rural neighborhoods with easy access where houses are located at a distance from the road, he said.

The open drains posed a safety hazard for pedestrians and drivers alike, said Skulczyck. Residents along the affected roads missed a day of mail because post office drivers had to cancel their routes until the drains could be re-covered.

Skulczyck said that road crews were able re-cover the drains the next day, thanks to town highway Superintendent Todd Babbitt, who had saved old grates from road repair projects. “Instead of scrapping them, he kept them in a stockpile, and we’re really, really lucky he did,” he said. The total cost of replacing the missing grates with new ones could have been as much as $4,000, he said.

High prices for scrap metal often lead to thievery, but local scrap metal dealers said they work closely with law enforcement to thwart attempts to re-sell contraband metals. Stephen Seder, vice-president of Shetucket Iron and Metal, said that all potential sellers are videotaped and expected to present a driver’s license. If the seller has a large amount of suspicious metal and is not from a recognized construction company, questions are asked, he said.

“We will call [state police] if we think something is wrong,” said Seder. “We have law enforcement officers here one to three times a week.” In addition, state police will call scrap yards and ask dealers to be on the lookout for specific items. Even so, “It’s hard to have someone come in with two grates and say ‘you stole them.’ You’ve got to walk a line with reasonable suspicion,” he said.

While Seder said there are many repeat offenders because the courts seem to offer light penalties, his company refuses to buy from known previous offenders. “Once I know, why would I let them back?” he said.

Katey Waddington, who works in marketing and sales for Connecticut Scrap, said that her company uses a software program called Scrap Dragon to screen new customers. She, too, said that a reputable scrap yard would not want to accept metal from a questionable source. “I don’t think any scrap yard would want to get its hands dirty. It’s just not worth it,” she said.

Anyone with information on the drain cover thefts should call Troop E at Montville, which is investigating the incident, at 860-848-6565. Skulczyck urged anyone witnessing a theft in progress not to intervene, but to call police.

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