Thefts of storm grates becoming a drain on suburbs' budgets

A grate remains in place along Route 1 in Concord Township. Elsewhere, thieves have been removing the grates, officials report.
A grate remains in place along Route 1 in Concord Township. Elsewhere, thieves have been removing the grates, officials report. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 16, 2013

Intent on making cash out of cast iron, thieves have been doing some heavy lifting, stealing storm-drain grates in the Pennsylvania suburbs.

Thieves have hit Kennett, Pennsbury, and New Garden in Chester County, and Concord and Tinicum in Delaware County, authorities say. There have been no arrests.

The grates, whose replacements cost from $275 to $325, can weigh 100 to 200 pounds, authorities say.

And there is the danger created by open drains without grates.

"The storm drains that the grates cover can be anywhere between 10 to 20 feet deep," East Marlborough Township Police Lt. Robert Clarke wrote in a recent e-mail to residents. "An unsuspecting, innocent child, bicyclist, pedestrian, jogger, or motorist could fall into the storm drain and suffer serious injury or death."

New Garden interim Township Manager Spencer Andress said Friday: "Speculation is that some of the grates may be used in projects where grates are needed. . . .

"In such cases, the value would be higher than for scrap," which an Internet search told him ranged up to 50 cents a pound.

In November, police in Bethlehem, Pa., charged a 25-year-old man with stealing 60 storm grates over 2 1/2 weeks and selling them to scrap yards to buy heroin.

Seven grates earned him $64, the Allentown Morning Call reported.

Locally, state Trooper Corey Monthei, public relations officer for the Avondale barracks, reported thefts in the last two weeks in Pennsbury, which state police officers cover because the township lacks its own police force.

Pennsbury Township Manager Kathleen Howley said Thursday that two grates had been stolen there, on a subdivision road with no outlet, limiting the possibility of injuries to unknowing passersby.

"Fortunately, we haven't been hit as bad as other surrounding townships," Howley said, noting that Kennett Township had lost "considerably more than two."

In January, New Garden Township reported that its storm drains lost 12 grates from Dec. 27 through Jan. 3, in the developments of Brittany Hills, Harrogate North, and Harrogate South.

New Garden's Andress said in an e-mail this week that his town has lost roughly $4,800 from the thefts.

"The cost of the grate only, no incidental or installation costs, is an average of $275," Andress wrote.

"The cost for installation, transportation, handling, etc., involving township personnel is an additional $125, roughly."

Andress said that, "so far, the dollars have come from the current year road-department budget.

"If the thefts continue," he wrote, "then it may be necessary to reallocate money from other projects."

The Chester County thieves, if they are acting alone, may not be feeling geographically inhibited.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Gene Blaum said Thursday afternoon that his agency's only recent report was of a "drainage inlet cover" stolen from a section of I-95 in Tinicum Township "a week or so ago."

Also Thursday, Robert J. Willert, township manager in Concord, Delaware County, responding to a citizen's report about an incident there, said five grates had been stolen there on Feb. 22.


Contact Walter F. Naedele at 610-313-8134 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.

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