DUNLAP, Tenn. — Copper thieves mined the electrical system of a regional coal museum here and caused thousands of dollars in damage.
“It’s a shame that this is because of some rogue thieves that have no public interest,” said Carson Camp, a member of the Sequatchie Valley Historical Association.
Thieves caused about $3,000 in damage by stripping electrical wiring from around the Dunlap Coke Ovens Museum. Officials believe the thefts occurred in the past few weeks.
The historical society didn’t have theft insurance to cover the damage, Mr. Camp said.
The museum is located in a full-size replica of a coal company commissary where miners shopped.
Rock structures called beehive coke ovens honeycomb the land around the museum. Miners used the ovens to convert coal into coke, a charcoal substance used in steel and iron forging.
The vandalism occurred along a trail behind the museum.
Lights that illuminate the path leading to an amphitheater were gutted of copper wire, and the main electrical box at the amphitheater was stripped. Another electrical box was stolen.
The amphitheater hosts a bluegrass festival each summer, which Mr. Camp said is the historical society’s financial backbone. He said the June concert nets about $6,000 and provides 90 percent of the museum’s funding.
“Unless we have an exceptional festival, we’ll spend all of our money trying to protect what we’ve got,” Mr. Camp said.
The historical society spent $2,000 to put eight infrared cameras on the museum property after the copper thefts.
“We want people to know that if you are up here and don’t want to be on camera, this probably isn’t a place for you,” Mr. Camp said.
Dunlap Police Chief Clint Huth said his department “has some good leads” in the museum vandalism case. He said metal thefts are an issue for all police departments.
“Copper is up and down. It comes in spurts,” Chief Huth said.
Tennessee lawmakers have taken aim at the thefts spurred by rising metal prices.
A bill awaiting the governor’s signature would require scrap metal dealers to register with the Department of Commerce. Customers would have to provide photo identification and a thumbprint before they could sell metal.
The measures will go into effect Oct. 1, and some scrap metal recyclers have expressed concern.
Tracy McDaniel, owner of Dunlap Recycling, understands both sides of the issue.
She said the new laws will burden scrap dealers who already struggle with detecting stolen metal. Copper wire, which sells for about $3 a pound, is usually melted and changed from its original form before being recycled, Mrs. McDaniel said.
But as a member of the Sequatchie Valley Historical Association, she is sympathetic to victims of metal theft such as the Coke Ovens Museum.
“It should not be illegal to recycle,” Mrs. McDaniel said. “I don’t know what the answer is, other than guarding your stuff.”