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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Denuding Of Cleveland, One Scrap At A Time

Cleveland has been hit hard by the housing crisis. Cuyahoga County has the highest rate of foreclosures per capita in the country and some 80,000 homes were repossessed by banks — about one in eight homes.

But the misfortune of many has turned into a gold mine — or rather, a copper mine — for scrappers. These hard luck entrepreneurs literally denude cities by stripping away piping, ventilation, air conditioning units, man hole covers, anything they can resell as scrap.

An increase in the price of metals has prompted a boom in this business in Cleveland. Some of it is legal, but much of it is illegal.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks to Diane Merriweather, who sells legally-obtained metal to scrap yards, and Vice magazine editor Wilbert Cooper, who wrote a piece about Cleveland called “Scrap or Die.”

Interview Highlights

Diane Merriweather on illegal scrapping in Cleveland

“A friend of mine was telling me, they took her neighbor’s car out of her driveway because it was down for a few months. And they took it out and they scrapped it because in some places, you don’t even need a title and they’ll scrap these cars illegally. That tends to be the thing now too – they’re just taking people’s cars and scrapping them. The city needs to make it mandatory and have some liability on the scrap yards to say ‘if anyone comes in here, they have to be a registered junk car or we will not let you scrap.’”

Wilbert Cooper on how scrappers sell stolen manhole covers

“A lot of the scrap yard owners buy it. There are also drug dealers that will purchase scrap after hours at a lower rate, and then they have their own ways to break it down. And one of the things that I learned was that connection between drugs and the scrap metal theft. I was actually told by the main character of this ‘Scrap or Die’ piece – he explicitly explains to me how some scrap yards will have a back room, like a secret room, where the stuff that they get that’s illegal, that should not be scrapped, is stored.”

Wilbert Cooper on the harm caused by illegal scrapping

“The problem is – if someone goes into a house and scraps $200 worth of scrap, they can do $20,000 worth of damage. Say if you go into a home and you rip out all of the copper wiring, you bust the walls and get out all of the copper, every wire in the house needs to be replaced because you can’t trust any of the wiring anymore, and the same thing with the flooding. They’ll come in and steal the pipes and then the water will run continuously for days and days, could potentially cause fires. There have been, in the city of Cleveland, different instances where abandoned homes went up in flames and that was often connected with scrap.”

Guests


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  • Liz

    It is a shame that these empty houses all over the country cannot become the homes for so many who have lost their homes through foreclosure, etc. Seems it could solve so many of the problems such as policing them, tearing them down, etc. by having them lived in. Such a waste to allow what were perfectly good homes fall into ruin.

    • fun bobby

      the problem when you do that is that the people do not have the funds to actually keep the houses up

      • BigAl1825

        Or the desire. Their income is not going to pay for utility bills.

  • fun bobby

    its funny how these articles leave out the fact that this is happening because of methamphetamines. Its the only drug that gives you the energy and drive to pull wires out of a house all day for a few bucks. This copper theft trend is just a side effect of the meth epidemic which is a unintended consequence of the prohibition of cocaine.

    • Judith Randall

      Why is that funny? What are you implying, they’re protecting meth users?

      • fun bobby

        methamphetamine components are legal to purchase. its big business. compare the packaging on Sudafed to other tablets. the Sudafed is so very easy to pop out. that is to make it easier for the meth cooks. It seems weird to have a story about copper scrapping without mentioning its cause. why do you think that is?

  • McOregon

    Metal theft is a problem here in Oregon as well. A fifteen million dollar foot bridge was stolen; a full size bronze sculpture of a woman was taken from someones lawn; High voltage cable was taken from part of the MAX line. That last one had to be someone who knew what they were doing or they would be dead; I can’t pass that off as just tweakers.

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