(The Center Square) — According to a recent Louisiana audit, an investigation is ongoing into the 2022 theft of about $40,000 worth of electrical cable from New Orleans water and sewer facilities.
An annual comprehensive financial report for the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans for 2021 and 2022 released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor last week details the “theft of public assets” last summer.
“In June and July 2022, SWBNO experienced a series of theft events of underground, 25-hertz feeders,” auditors wrote. “Over 4,000 feet of cable was stolen from sections of Feeder 404.”
The board purchased new lines and replaced the cable by the end of 2022.
With a 10-year capital improvement budget of $2.55 billion, the board manages drinking, stormwater and wastewater systems in the Crescent City using century-old pumps that require a unique form of electricity and use in-house turbines to generate it.
The power system involves 25-hertz feeders that distribute electricity through remotely located electrical feeder cable vaults that service the other systems.
“In 2022, the Board experienced theft of electrical cable with an approximate value of $40,000 from the feeder network site,” according to the report. “Management stated that the individuals who committed or who are believed to have committed the theft are unknown.
“The board identified the theft due to an instant disruption in the feeder system,” it read. “The theft was reported to the New Orleans Police Department and the investigation is open.”
Auditors noted the board did not report the theft to the legislative auditor and district attorney, as required by state law.
Auditors recommended officials “enhance established policies and procedures for preventing, detecting and deterring fraud” and establish better policies to ensure instances of fraud or misappropriations are reported to the legislative auditor and district attorney.
According to management’s response, “The Board has implemented operational steps in securing remotely located electrical feeder cable vaults with additional levels of security (specifically, jersey barriers on top of the vaults where practical and contract security random checks) to mitigate exposure to theft and will review procedures for communication with the appropriate regulatory bodies if these types of matters arise.”
Jersey barriers are large, typically concrete, barriers often used to separate lanes of traffic. Depending on the size, they can weigh more than a ton and cost between $500 and $2,000 each.
The cost for additional random security checks is unclear.
The thefts preceded similar thefts of copper wire from utilities in New Orleans this year that interrupted phone and internet access, interfered with emergency services, delayed street light repairs and caused other issues. Other cases occurred in 2021.
Numerous New Orleans scrap dealers offer about $3.50 per pound for scrap copper, with some paying on the same day as delivery, according to priceofscrapmetals.com.