Soaring metal prices have affected steel manufacturers, carpenters, farmers and automobile companies across the nation. Even electric cooperatives have problems with the rise in copper prices. Not only are prices going up, but also thieves are coming in. Residents of Fulton County who work with metal on a daily basis are beginning to feel the pressure of the metal economy.
According to a Bloomberg report U.S. steelmakers are increasing prices because of decreasing imports and a struggling economy. Global steel prices have gone up as developing countries keep building. The U.S. steel-sheet record in June about doubled the $532 a ton from the previous year. Barrick Gold Corp., the world's largest producer of gold, averaged prices of the copper they also produce at $3.78 a pound, which is 9.3 percent higher than last year. In May, copper reached its record high at $4.26 a pound.
Due to the high cost of metal, many cities and residents have had problems with thieves trying to cash in on the rising cost. Copper seems to be a favorite for these thieves.
The city of Batesville has had some problems with metal thieves. The Batesville Daily Guard reported July 25 on the city's water department theft of a manhole cover, which was discovered in a scrap metal yard.
The thefts extend to the Fulton County area as well. Lena Sutterfield, office manager of Carpenter's Metal and Recycling in Viola, said although the recycling center does have problems with thefts, "It's not enough to notice."
The landscape strewn with rusty, broken-down machinery, pipes, railroad ties and long forgotten hubcaps at the recycling center are open to the elements. There is no fence surrounding the property and no night security or cameras. Zach Smith, a worker at the recycling center said, "There's been people spotted down the hill stealing stuff."
The recycling center gets an average of about 60-70,000 pounds of metal in per day. The center doesn't take the names of people who bring in loads of metal, but, "Copper, since it's valuable, we take names," said Smith. The workers at the recycling center take names because they don't want someone else's stolen goods.
"So far I don't think we've had people like that come in," Smith said. Smith also said the recycling center keeps the more expensive items locked up.
Jason Guffey, co-owner of Allsteel Incorporated in Gepp said they haven't had any thefts. "They (thieves) wouldn't know what to do with it," said Guffey.
Mike Batterton, another co-owner said, "We make everything custom order." But with the price of steel being high it doesn't make much of a difference whether they've been stolen from or not.
Guffey said, "We've seen a $600 per ton increase."
Many farmers and property owners mending or building fences feel the pain in their wallets, too. The reason why steel posts and barbed wire are more expensive than in the past is that, "A lot of the things we (use) for fences have been scraped," Guffey said.
Although some are struggling with metal prices, others are dealing more heavily with thefts, especially the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative. Director of Marketing, Leah Rouse, said Baxter County had three copper thefts last year, which resulted in over $6,000 in damages. The latest theft occurred when someone broke into the backyard of the Baxter County offices. The other two happened when people broke into substations.
"We have increased security efforts around our offices," Rouse said. "We're looking into surveillance cameras."
According to a NAEC Nov. 28, 2007, press release, stealing from substations can be dangerous. Mel Coleman, chief executive officer, said in the press release, "Substation equipment is exposed to high-voltage energy with some components energized at more than 100,000 volts."
If getting fried doesn't persuade thieves to stay away, maybe something a bit stronger than 100,000 volts will. According to the same press release, the distribution of electricity is a high priority for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Vandalism of electric distribution centers cannot only disrupt electricity but can also be considered an act of terrorism.