The North Bend Eagle


 

Thieves targeting copper wire on pivots in North Bend area

by Nathan Arneal
Published 4/4/12

Even in the winter months, when the ground is frozen and the fields are barren, Maynard Flamme likes to get out and check his irrigation pivots.

That’s common practice in the summer months, when pivots are carving circles in the corn as end guns spray water and paint rainbows in the sky.

Now, farmers are feeling obligated to check their pivots even when they aren’t running, and it has nothing to do with watering crops. Thieves have been targeting pivots for their copper wiring.

A couple of weeks ago, Flamme discovered that one of his pivots a few miles northwest of North Bend had fallen victim to thieves. From each span of the pivot—with one span being the distance between the wheeled towers of the pivot—about 40 feet of wiring had been stripped. The wiring runs along the top of the main pipe and provides power to the motors located on each tower.

Travis Fruend is the owner of Mid-Continent Irrigation in Fremont, a dealer of Valley brand pivots. He said the problem of wire theft from pivots has been concentrated closer to Omaha, but it has been creeping farther west.

Last year a couple of pivots were hit near Highway 30 between Fremont and North Bend. The theft at Flamme’s pivot is the first known strike in the North Bend area. Evidence at Flamme’s pivot suggests that it was the work of a group of thieves that has been active for some time.

“It does show evidence that it is the same group that were targeting the Fremont, Valley, Omaha area,” Fruend said. “How they remove the cable is the same exact pattern.”

The issue has become such a problem in western Douglas and eastern Dodge counties that farmers in that area have come together to offer a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of thieves stealing copper wire in their area. Those farmers have also put up a billboard between Fremont and Omaha telling people to be on the lookout for the thieves.

Fruend said he sold some copper pivot wire to a scrap metal buyer to get an idea of how much the thieves are making. He said one span’s worth of wiring brings about $25. It costs about $1,200 per span for a farmer to repair the damage.

That means on a five-tower pivot like the one Flamme had robbed, the thieves are causing about $6,000 of damage while stealing $125 worth of wiring.
Flamme’s pivot was insured, but the damage done goes beyond just money.

“It’s just a nuisance,” Flamme said. “Now we have to wait until they come out and put new wire on before we can move the pivot, and it’s kind of their busy time of the year as far as putting new pivots up. So it’s an added burden for (the repair) guys and it sure is a pain for me.”

Alarm systems are becoming more popular on pivots, but it is still a challenge to respond in time to catch the thieves. Recently an alarm owned by a farmer near Valley went off at 5:15 a.m. By the time authorities were notified and arrived on the scene, the bandits were gone.

The efforts are not always in vain, though. The Dodge County Sheriff’s office did catch some wire thieves last year.

If power goes out on one of his pivots while they are in use, Flamme receives a text message. He said if he leaves the pivot powered up all the time, this could act as an alarm system. However, that would mean leaving his cell phone next to his bed and then making the journey to the pivot if the alarm does go off.

Communication and organization among farmers could be the best way to combat and catch the thieves, Flamme said. For example, if he gets a text saying the power was cut to one of his pivots, he could call a fellow farmer who lives near his pivot and ask them to look out the window.

“If it gets worse around here, I think we’re going to have to do that, have a neighborhood watch type of deal,” Flamme said. “We don’t want (neighbors) to go out and confront the guy, but maybe just look out the window and call authorities if there’s something suspicious.”

Dodge County Sheriff Steve Hespen said any information will help bring the thieves to justice. He encourages people to report anything unusual they see near pivots.

“If you see something occurring at the time you can definitely call 911 and report the location and any vehicle information,” Hespen said. “We don’t encourage people to approach the individuals. We don’t want to see them put in harm’s way, but if they report what they see it would definitely be helpful.”

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