Hoquiam plan targets metal thefts

After a string of scrap metal thefts, City of Hoquiam officials are considering a city ordinance requiring a license to sell scrap metal.

City Administrator Brian Shay said the ordinance is aimed at decreasing the number of metal thefts by allowing only those who haven’t been convicted of theft, burglary, robbery or drug charges in the past 10 years to obtain a license. Obtaining the license would be free.

The ordinance wouldn’t affect the average citizen, as only those wishing to sell scrap metal more than twice a year would need the license, Shay said.

“Historically, the people selling metal 10 to 30 times a month are what people on the Harbor call the tweakers,” Shay said. “They’re stealing metal and selling it to pay for drugs.”

Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers said metal theft has long been an “epidemic” in Hoquiam, and he confirmed that metal thefts are usually drug-related crimes.

“It is a shame some people do not put in the same effort at legitimate work as they do in stealing metal,” Myers said. “Usually the damage to public and private property in removing the wire or pipe is 10 to 20 times the value of the scrap metal taken.”

For example, thieves caused about $2,400 in damage to the Department of Licensing building in Hoquiam when they stole tubing from an air conditioning system. The metal was scrapped for $72 — putting repair costs at about 33 times the scrap value.

The city has heard some opposition from the local metal scrapping industry. David Butcher of Butcher Scrap Metal in Hoquiam spoke against the ordinance at a June 10 city council meeting, arguing that the ordinance would hurt his business.

“I think that it will ultimately inconvenience my customers and ultimately drive them away,” Butcher said.

Butcher said he has helped law enforcement catch metal thieves in the past, and he is willing to work with the city to create scrap metal policies in the future.

“I don’t like a thief … and I know that it is a problem in Hoquiam with the metal theft that’s going on,” Butcher said. “I was under the impression that we were doing quite a good job at stopping the theft.”

Shay said the ordinance is partially a response to the state Legislature’s failure this session to pass strict enough legislation regarding metal theft. The state House and Senate did pass a bill, House Bill 1552, aimed at controlling the problem. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 21 and will take effect July 28.

Local Sens. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, and Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, voted yes on the legislation. The bill was sponsored by Kirkland Democrat Rep. Roger Goodman.

To comply with state regulations, businesses must acquire a signature from the person selling the metal, document the time and location of the transaction and document how much the seller was paid for the metal.

Businesses must also acquire a phone number and address for the seller, record the license plate number and description of the vehicle the seller arrived in, note the seller’s drivers license or picture identification card number and document the types of metal sold.

The legislation also establishes a grant program to help law enforcement agencies target metal theft.

Shay said the legislation is a step in the right direction, but ultimately falls short of what the city needs.

“Personally, I think the state should require a business license for those individuals who scrap daily,” Shay said. “If this was a requirement, the drug addicts would be cut off because they would refuse to get a license.”

Before taking effect, the ordinance must be passed by the Hoquiam City Council. Shay said the measure will likely be on the agenda for a June 24 meeting.