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Copper thieves target Hilo beach park

Early arrivals to Onekahakaha Beach Park in Keaukaha on Wednesday morning were unhappy to discover that thieves made off with many of the park’s copper water spigots during the night.

“When we got here, the water was turned off,” said Elaine San Jose, who was sitting with friends under a pavilion near the parking lot. “When the parks (department) guy got here to clean the bathroom, he turned on the water and it started shooting up out of the pipes, all over the park, so he turned it off.”

All told, the thieves caused between $1,500 and $2,000 in damage by cutting the pipes, said Hawaii County Parks and Recreation spokesman Jason Armstrong.

“This included removing copper pipe and seven hose bibs, or spigot ends for hoses or drinking fountains,” he said.

County workers were able to restore water service to the park’s bathrooms at about 11:30 a.m., he said, but the water fountains stationed around the park won’t be usable until the full repairs are complete.

How long that will take, Armstrong couldn’t say.

“We have nearly 200 facilities around the island, most with some kind of water. This was very unfortunate that they (the thieves) would choose to do this. … It’s something we didn’t plan for, and based on their schedules, our plumbers will have to squeeze it in.”

At around 2 p.m., it appeared that many of the severed faucets had already been replaced.

San Jose and her husband, Elton John, said they were dismayed to discover the act of vandalism, and were sad to see that it would impact others’ enjoyment of the park.

“It’s kinda sad that these drug addicts, they don’t even think about the kids,” Elton John San Jose said.

Venus Soares had driven a busload of keiki from Keaau out for a day at the beach.

But when they arrived and found that the bathrooms would not be available, plans were made to take them to Carlsmith Beach Park instead.

“They were very disappointed when we first got here,” she said. “We were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to use the bathrooms, so we had to take them down the road.”

Metal theft has been an increasing problem across the country as scrap metal prices have risen because of the explosive growth of developing nations such as India and China.

Between 2001 and 2008, the price of copper increased by more than 500 percent, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The thieves — many of whom are drug addicts or gang members — may act individually or as part of organized groups and are interested in the quick cash they get from selling copper to scrap metal dealers,” reads a 2008 precious metals report at fbi.gov.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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