By Alan Burke
---- — A frustrated Steve Solomon has two simple words to describe people who steal manhole covers — “total idiots.”
Yes, the weighty disks can be expensive to replace. A stolen manhole cover in Salem, carrying the logo of the South Essex Sewerage District, was estimated to cost more than $500. But the thief most likely got a lot less for his efforts.
Meanwhile, the inconvenience and even danger to the community far exceeds the $500.
Which helps explain why Solomon, a Marblehead resident who owns Solomon Metals Corp. in Lynn and is a past president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, is an advocate for legislation that will more closely regulate his own business.
“Nobody wants to have to deal with regulations,” he said. “But our industry is encouraging regulation because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t want stolen materials brought to our places.”
Currently, Solomon is part of a group including Salem lawyer and media commentator Neil Chayet and several local legislators with an interest in creating a law to cut down on the theft of metal objects. It’s a trend that has hit individuals and municipalities hard, with everything from guard rails to cemetery plaques to manhole covers disappearing. Chayet began to see the need after his historic home was twice stripped of its copper gutters.
A bill to more closely regulate the sale of scrap metal was scrapped itself at the end of last year’s session on Beacon Hill. For Chayet, that was simply a prod to redouble his efforts. In the coming days, he plans to meet with Solomon and state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, to discuss a new strategy.
“I’m going to really get into it this year,” he said. “When they’re stealing manhole covers, that is ridiculous.”
Also eager to see changes is Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, a part of the House leadership. The failure of last year’s bill came after members of the state Senate insisted on language requiring that metal be held for a period of time before dealers could sell it, he said. Metal company owners, including Solomon, oppose such language as impractical.
“The Senate wanted a 10- or 15-day holding period, like a pawn shop. ... It would have made the bill unenforceable,” Speliotis said.
Solomon said most metal operations lack the space to “tag and hold” large quantities of metal for long periods.
“It’s a job-killer, as well,” he said.
Speliotis is eager to overcome the disagreement with the Senate.
“This is one of my top priorities of this legislative session. I’m adamant about seeing this pass,” he said. “I was very disappointed and upset that it didn’t pass last year.”
With a number of metal dealers in nearby Everett and Chelsea, the issue has galvanized North Shore legislators in general, he said.
A new bill sponsored by Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, is currently before the House. It requires written records of metal sales, and it bars the purchase of certain items, except when the seller is a company or municipality. The list of forbidden objects gives an idea of just what’s being stolen, including “cables used only in high-voltage transmission lines ... traffic signs ... beer kegs ... historical markers ... benches from athletic fields and bleachers,” as well as manhole covers and guard rails.
Desperation is behind the efforts of some people to sell such things, said Solomon, but he also has no patience with dealers who buy such items.
“It boggles my mind that when somebody sees this, they don’t stop it,” he said. “... It shouldn’t happen, and shame on anybody who lets it happen.”
But the problem for some buyers, he said, is that they often don’t know they’re buying the metal plaque or the manhole cover.
“It’s buried in the load. ... It just doesn’t get seen,” he said.
Keenan and state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, have sponsored separate legislation that would increase penalties for stripping copper gutters and other metal objects from historic properties. It is presently in committee in the House.
Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.