Authorities are investigating a rise in the theft of manhole covers in Huntington, which they said has made local roadways more treacherous.
Highway Superintendent William Naughton said that in the past week, nine of the town's 30,000 covers have been taken from streets in Greenlawn, Northport, Huntington and Huntington Station, two as recently as Tuesday.
Naughton says that although it is normal to see a manhole cover taken now and then by pranksters or vandals, in the past couple of months the town highway department has had to replace about 20 of the cast-iron steel covers, some taken from the middle of the road.
"It's dangerous because it leaves open holes in the road before we get a chance to fix them," Naughton said. "We would have this problem every once and a while, but all of a sudden it has escalated for whatever reason."
Other Long Island towns did not report an unusual uptick in manhole cover thefts, but Babylon Town spokesman Tim Ruggeri said about 50 manhole covers within the town have been stolen in the past year. It costs the town $195 each to replace, leaving the town out of nearly $10,000 this year. "It is a problem," Ruggeri said.
The covers conceal underground drainage structures that can be 20 to 30 feet deep and filled with water, Naughton said. He said there are no ladders in some of them in the event someone falls in, creating the potential for serious injury or death.
Naughton said it costs the town about $400 to replace each cover. That includes overtime expenses incurred by the town because the thefts are often done at night, necessitating road crews to come out after regular business hours to avoid disaster.
"We can't say for sure why they are stealing them," Naughton said. "But we would have to assume they are stealing them for the value of the material."
Kevin Gershowitz, president of Brookhaven-based Gershow Recycling, said depending on condition, "the price for scrap steel is between 9 and 12 cents per pound," he said.
"It's a sign of the times, unfortunately," said Babylon's Ruggeri.
Highway officials said each cover weighs about 60 to 75 pounds.
Naughton is asking anyone who witnesses someone removing a manhole cover to contact police with vehicle make, model, license plate number and a description of the thieves if possible.
"We really need the public's help in this before something serious happens," Naughton said.