The theft of metal storm drain grates has become a major problem in communities across the US, costing hard-up local governments thousands and creating a serious safety hazard, USA Today finds. The grates, which weigh around 250 pounds, cover drains that often have a drop of more than 10 feet, making their absence a danger to motorists and pedestrians alike. Replacing them can cost up to $800 a pop which adds up to a hefty sum in Atlanta, where more than 600 grates have been stolen over the last few months.
"We can't let this go or put it off, the way we can with something like litter pickup," says a spokesman for Georgia's Department of Transportation. "This is a safety issue. When these things turn up missing, we've got to replace them." The grates only fetch around $20 each as scrap metal, he says, and the stolen Atlanta ones haven't turned up in junkyards, so officials suspect they are being sold to out-of-state developers for up to $200 each—possibly by thieves who have been posing as work crews. (Read more theft stories.)