Ward's Recycling hadn't even been open for a month about seven years ago when owner Scott Ward read about the theft of some automobile radiators in the newspaper.
"I told my wife, 'I think we might have bought them,'" he said.
Ward decided to call the Washington County Sheriff's Office to get help with the situation, and he's been working with them since to help prevent the sale of stolen scrap materials.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Ward’s Recycling employees Abby Farnsworth, left, and Jill Bennett toss electric motors and other materials into a bin Wednesday at the Ohio 7 business.
But even though he's all for the state of Ohio cracking down on such thefts, Ward said he has concerns about the specifics of a law that went into effect two months ago. It's resulted in an upgrade of equipment on which the Marietta Township business expects to spend $100,000 and could cost it $10,000 to $20,000 a month by cutting off some legitimate customers.
"Everyone's dumbfounded; they just don't know how to interpret it," Ward said.
On Wednesday, Ward attended a training session sponsored by the state departments of Homeland Security and Public Safety. He said attorneys there advised against accepting copper from anyone other than licensed contractors and businesses.
Scrap metal law
Requirements of the law that went into effect Sept. 28 include:
Dealers must take photographs of the person from whom they purchase or receive the article or container. If the person refuses, the dealer cannot accept the items.
Creates a statewide database with which scrap metal dealers must register by Jan. 1.
Makes the theft of certain materials and bulk merchandise containers a fifth-degree felony on the first offense and a third-degree felony on subsequent offenses.
Certain items can only be paid for by check, and payment must be withheld for two days.
By Jan. 1, 2014, the Ohio Department of Public Safety will establish a "Do Not Buy From" list of individuals known to have stolen such items or received such stolen property.
Source: Times research.
"Off an individual, you can't even buy that stuff," he said.
While the law says a dealer must get proof that "special purchase articles" like burnt copper wiring, cable wires, grave markers and guardrails belong to the person bringing them in, attorneys at Wednesday's session said it would be hard to get proof from a private individual that would stand up in court. A personal letter wouldn't suffice.
Since West Virginia does not have similar provisions, people will probably go there to sell their copper, Ward said.
"And along with the little bit of copper they got is all of the other stuff they were going to sell," he said.
Without sitting down to calculate the numbers, Ward offered a rough estimate of $10,000 to $20,000 monthly revenue loss for his business as a result.
Ward's is in good shape as far as complying with provisions of the law requiring them to photograph people who bring in scrap items; that is done automatically at the business' payment window. And cameras mounted on the large vehicle scale and a smaller scale for other items take photos of what's being brought there.
"We're going to have $100,000 in this thing before it's completely done," he said. "I don't know that you could put this system up for $50,000 and have exactly what the state wants."
That will likely spell trouble for smaller recyclers, as Ward heard at Wednesday's training.
"They're like, 'I'm done. I can't afford to do this,'" he said.
By Jan. 1, scrap metal dealers must be on the state's new registry, at a cost of $200 to sign up and $150 for subsequent years. By the start of 2014, the law requires the state to have a database built to record daily transaction data entered electronically by dealers, as well as a "Do Not Buy From" list of people known to be scrap metal thieves or receivers of stolen property.
"The system will allow law enforcement to access anything that's sold in Ohio, and the recyclers that were running shady operations, they'll either have to clean it up or they won't exist," Ward said.
But he's concerned that honest people will get caught in the crossfire.
Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, co-sponsored and voted for the legislation. She said the goal was to provide adequate oversight without being overly burdensome.
"If there are problems with implementation of the legislation, I'm sure that my colleagues and I would be open to looking at tweaks," she said.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said he's pleased with the law and his office will work with local businesses to help implement it.
"It's surely going to be a good start...a lot more than we had before," he said.
Customers at Ward's Wednesday said they were OK with increased regulation and having their pictures taken.
"Probably cuts down on thieving," said John Bush, 37, of Newport.
Fleming resident Codi Anderson, 19, said lack of proper documentation that his grandfather owned some old oil well equipment once stopped him from selling it to a scrap yard.
"He didn't have the papers so they wouldn't let me take it," he said. "Which is understandable, 'cause people will do anything to make money."
The customers were not aware of the change in copper buying when interviewed.
Other area recyclers either did not return calls or declined to comment for this story.