AUGUSTA — Police have charged two people with stealing nearly two dozen storm drain grates and manhole covers over the past several weeks.

Jordan Achorn, 20, of Jefferson, and Dustin Matthews, 23, of Gardiner, were each charged on Tuesday with theft by unauthorized taking, said Augusta Police Lt. Kevin Lully. Matthews was also charged with violating conditions of release.

Lully said the investigation is ongoing and that additional charges are possible.

Brian Tarbuck, superintendent of the Greater Augusta Utility District, said 20 manhole covers and catch basin grates have been stolen since Oct. 7. He said the thefts occurred throughout the city, though the east side was hit more heavily than the west side. Thefts have occurred on the former Augusta Mental Health Institute grounds, on Cony Road, Arsenal Street and elsewhere.

Lully said nearly all of the covers and grates were recovered at an Augusta recycling center.

“It looks like we’re just about back to par,” Lully said.

Tim Wade, operations supervisor for the Greater Augusta Utility District, said in an email to city officials that the thefts, which left behind open holes on main and side streets with nothing to warn pedestrians or motorists, created “an immediate danger to ourselves, our families and our community.”

The uncovered holes often go undetected until the last minute.

“We had a report of a private trash hauling company where one of their employees reported a missing cover after nearly stepping into the open hole,” Tarbuck said.

Lully said one of the holes was 40 inches in diameter and 20 feet deep.

“I don’t know if somebody would even survive that kind of fall,” he said.

In an email to Lully Friday night, copied to the Kennebec Journal, City Manager William Bridgeo said, “It is frightening to think of the tragedy that could ensure from such mindless criminal activity.”

The manhole covers and grates can weigh 200 pounds and require tools to be dislodged, Tarbuck said. But he said with the right tools a couple of people could quickly and easily hoist the manhole covers into the back of a pickup truck and avoid detection.

“People who are curious aren’t going to be able to just pop those things out,” Tarbuck said.

Tarbuck said he learned from metal recyclers that they would pay about $15 for a cover or grate. The replacement cost for the utility district is $250, however.

“Some older manholes, basin covers are no longer made,” he said. “For these we will have to replace the frame beneath the cover if we can’t locate the covers themselves.”

Tarbuck said the replacement costs of the covers and grates stolen so far would have cost about $8,000 if the if the originals had not been recovered. The district owns about 5,000 catch basin grates in Augusta and about 3,000 manhole covers between Augusta and Hallowell.

A manhole cover or grate would not necessarily raise suspicion at a recycling center, Tarbuck said. Contractors sometimes turn in covers recovered on private property. Many of the utility district’s covers and grates are unmarked, making them indistinguishable to recycling center employees.

“I’m assuming they think this must be a legitimate enterprise,” Tarbuck said.

All of the covers known to have been stolen have been replaced, but Wade asked people to be on the lookout for missing covers as they are out and about.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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