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Copper theft causes blackout in the mountains

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By Charlotte Underwood

Mountain residents living in Eagan, Pruden and Clairfield found themselves without power Sunday night after believed copper thieves cut a utility pole with an ax in the Sweet Gum Flats area.

“They got up there, took an ax and cut the pole down and stole anywhere from 500 to 700 feet of wire,” said LaFollette Utilities Manager Kenny Baird.

The power outage left around 435 customers without power for nearly 12 hours, according to Baird. While LaFollette Utilities employees responded immediately, there wasn’t much they could do on the mountain in the dark, according to Baird.

“When the sun goes down, productivity goes with the sun,” said Baird.

The power was finally restored around noon on Monday after utility workers were able to set a new pole and install new line.

It was estimated by Baird the thieves netted only a few hundred dollars from the copper, while it will cost the utilities around $3, 000 to $5,000 in repairs and man-hours to fix it. This amount does not include the loss of revenue and the customer’s loss of power.

“We’ve had the sheriff’s department begin an investigation and are speaking with a detective about the possibility of a reward,” said Baird. He said he believes the suspect is most likely someone local, who knows the area.

The utilities also suffered a copper theft in the Chadwell Hollow area around two weeks ago.

“Since the areas are close to one another, it’s probably the same group of people,” said Baird.