American cities are being ravaged by illegal scrapping. Although a problem for decades, increased demand from China and other rapidly developing nations have increased the per pound value of copper and other architectural metals. The result has been an epidemic of metal theft across America. Brass stolen from a Miami cemetery. Artwork missing from Los Angeles parks…only to be found later in a scrapyard, sold for pennies on the dollar. Even rural areas are not immune. Driving around Detroit one can see hundreds of examples of stripping. To add insult to injury, in most cases the value of the scrapped metal is only a fraction of the value of the original fixture or detail.
It isn’t enough to ensure the preservation of a park, a neighborhood, or even a building. Original copper gutters, plated sconces, bronze chandeliers, cast-iron radiators and the like are all critically important contributing features to the value of a historic property. The genius of a lot of architecture, you might say, is truly in the details. In recent months we have have seen Highland Park City Hall stripped of its original interior detailing, and a plague of copper pipe theft that rages through almost every Detroit neighborhood.
Several jurisdictions have begun to fight back. Hawaii passed a law almost a year ago with strong support from law enforcement. In Arizona, scrap dealers are required to document their purchases. New York State now has a strong law on the books. Maryland is considering a similar metal scrap registry law this month. Ohio is poised to take action. West Virginia has made progress on this pressing issue.
In Michigan, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a law in early 2007. But some say the legislation is not strong enough. State Senator Buzz Thomas of Detroit has introduced Senate Bill 720, which would require scrap dealers to provide weekly reports to law enforcement and hold metal for two weeks before processing. The bill seems to be stuck in committee. There are related efforts underway as well.
Detroit and other historic Michigan cities need sophisticated anti-scrapping laws, today, to salvage the dwindling original details still extant.