Copper Thieves Caused Wednesday’s Outage

BERLIN — Wednesday’s brief but expansive power outage from Bethany to Ocean City and from West Ocean City to Berlin was allegedly caused by copper thieves who cut about 250 feet of wire from two sub-stations in nearby Delaware.

Around 1:26 p.m. on Wednesday, the power went out across a large section of Delmarva from Bethany Beach to Berlin and practically everywhere in between, setting off a collective groan from area residents weary of chronic outages from storms and failing systems. However, Wednesday’s outage, which lasted just about 10 minutes or so, was not caused by any act of God, but rather the mischief of two alleged copper thieves.

Delaware State Police troopers were called to respond to two Delmarva Power sub-stations on either side of Kent Ave. just south of Bethany Beach for a reported vandalism and theft incident. The investigation revealed a suspect or suspects scaled the fence at one of the sub-stations on the west side of the road, and once inside the facility, cut the copper grounding wires to several utility poles as well as two transformers.

The suspect, or suspects, then scaled the fence of the sub-station on the east side of Kent Ave. and repeated the procedure. By the time they were done, the suspect or suspects had fled the area with 250 feet of copper wire valued at roughly $1,000. The damage resulted in an expansive outage for an estimated 37,000 power customers from Bethany to Berlin.

Delmarva Power responded by re-routing power from its Bishop sub-station between Bishopville and Selbyville, which restored power to the beach areas. Delmarva Power was then able to stabilize the situation until power was restored to the rest of the outage area. The entire outage from start to finish lasted about 10 minutes.

With the tough economy and the growing value of copper and other metals, incidents such as Wednesday’s copper wire theft in Bethany have become more and more prevalent, but Delmarva Power officials yesterday warned of the dangers of entering high voltage electric facilities to the perpetrators and others.

“This was an extremely dangerous and exceedingly foolish incident,” said Delmarva Power spokesman Matt Likovich. “These suspects created an extremely unsafe situation for themselves, for our people who have to go in to repair the damage, and to the thousands of people left without power, even though it was corrected in a short time. On top of that, when our facilities are vandalized, it causes instability in the entire system and often creates a great expense, which ultimately gets passed down to the customers.”