PORT OF SPAIN Mayor Joel Martinez has sent out a plea to the public to report anyone involved in a recent spate of thefts of metal drain covers in the capital city which have exposed drivers and pedestrians to the hazard of open drains and manholes.
He shared his concerns after being contacted on Friday by Newsday which had noticed manhole covers missing along Independence Square.
Martinez said he noticed some missing metal grills which were designed to provide cover over drain holes while allowing flood waters to run into drains underneath.
He said suspected this was due to "organised theft" over the past 4-5 days.
"At this time I am sending a request for the superintendent of police to investigate and at the same time have some caution tape put around the various areas where it is happening. There are a number of spots this has happened to and it is very recent.
"I will ask the Port of Spain City Corporation's CEO and superintendent of police to reach out to the scrap iron dealers to find out if there have been any sort of individuals bringing that material in to have it recycled or taken up and paid for."
Newsday asked if the thefts of metal covers/grills would push the corporation to use concrete covers.
He replied, "We use an open grill where water can go into the main drain, so if you put concrete then it will impede it.
"Further, the concrete tends to mash up a lot faster than the metal. Also the metal is a lot stronger, even as you will remember that a lot of these are on the road and they are just over the drain. The other round metal covers have WASA valves underneath and protect the valves and allow access to the underground drainage."
Asked if the fines for such thefts should be increased so as to deter thieves, Martinez vowed to look into this question.
"We do have cameras in the city and I'd want the police to look into the areas where we have cameras to determine if they are able to see any maliciousness taking place regarding the removal of the grill gates and the metal covers."
Martinez said, "I'd like to appeal to the individuals who maliciously remove the city infrastructure that covers the underground drains which assist us in cleaning these drain.
"When you remove those covers what you are doing is actually creating a hole in the middle of the road of which if a vehicle goes down in it, can pose serious damage to that vehicle and can maybe cause someone to have swing away from it which could cause serious injury of death."
He said replacing the covers was costly at a time of limited funds.
"So citizens of Port of Spain, please if you see anyone removing the infrastructure from the city, it is something we want to discourage. Please report it. Take a picture and send it to the mayor and let us know something, so our police can act on it.
"It can cause serious injury to someone who may not have seen the hole, either driving or walking on the street."
Only few scrap yards buy
stolen material, says association
Scrap Iron Dealers Association president Allan Ferguson said, "The association condemns these kind of acts. We make it clear to our members that when people come into your yard with these kind of things, not to purchase it. If we don't have a market for it, it will not be stolen. We make it very clear to all our members, not to purchase these manhole covers.
"We continue to let the police know who are the people who go to these yards and which yard they go to sell them. There are certain yards in Trinidad which will purchase anything because they don't care about what takes place in the country because they will leave here and go in other countries and set up.
"We make it clear to the police which are the yards people are going with these things."
Asked how many yards buy stolen metal, Ferguson replied, "It's just a few yards involved in these unscrupulous types of behaviour. I can tell you that for sure. We know them. We tell the police about them. We are familiar with them.
"They get held by the police but win their case, because nobody can identify the things." He said unlike manhole covers, many items have no identifying marks.
Further, Ferguson said under the existing act, the fine for stealing scrap iron was typically $200 to $300, which was the same or less than what thieves could sell a couple of manhole covers for.
He welcomed tougher penalties proposed in the Ministry of Trade new scrap metal policy for TT. This document said the current Old Metal and Marine Stores Act was outdated and proposed a $500,000 fine for anyone dealing in scrap metal who fails to register with the authorities.
Ferguson made the point that previously his association had met dealers up and down TT, to successfully help end the previous theft of TSTT copper wire cables.