Scales sit in the loading dock area of Residual Materials Inc., a scrap metal recycling company located off of Mill Road in Grand Forks.

Scrap that's dropped off there is loaded onto the metal pads to be weighed while cameras above take its picture. A photocopy of the seller's driver's license is among the pieces of data uploaded into a computer nearby.

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The system allows RMI to keep better stock of its inventory, and better track of who is dropping it off.

A state law enacted in May aimed at deterring metal theft now requires companies like RMI to note where and when the scrap was purchased, its weight and type, payment method and amount, and a copy of a government-issued identification. RMI has been ahead of the curve in keeping detailed records of scrap metal that's dropped off there, and implemented its system about five years ago.

Tyler Gibbs, RMI site manager, emphasized that the data is only available to law enforcement in the investigation of a possible crime.

"There's been stuff over the years where we've actually helped the police out," Gibbs said.

Deterring crime

Judy Lee was chatting on the phone when she noticed that a lawn ornament she placed near her front door had disappeared. She assumed it was stolen, considering it was made mostly of copper.

But the West Fargo state senator said it wasn't the case of the missing lawn ornament that prompted her scrap legislation. Rather, it was instances of large pieces of metal being stolen from construction sites and elsewhere.

"We were trying to... make it more difficult for people to steal stuff and sell it," Lee said.

One recent case involved the theft of 26,000 pounds of copper, valued at $112,000, being stolen from Dakota Supply Group earlier this year in Fargo.

"As the price of certain metals has surged, we have seen a dramatic increase in both the number of thefts and the value of the stolen items," Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a statement a day before the law took effect.

Lee said law enforcement and scrap yards were supportive of the bill.

"Reliable businesses don't want anybody stealing stuff either," Lee said. "They were willing to do the extra work that it takes to do some of this logging in."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced a bill this year that would make stealing metal from critical infrastructure a federal crime, among other provisions. But that bill, which Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., co-sponsored, has yet to pass the Senate.

Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, wrote in July that recyclers "have worked aggressively" to help pass anti-metal theft laws across the country.

"Every state except Alaska now has at least one law, and in many cases multiple laws, addressing recordkeeping requirements, specified payment methods, and proof or documentation of ownership that are often more strict than what is currently being proposed in Congress," Wiener wrote in The Hill, a Washington D.C. publication.

Law reception

As Gibbs drove around the RMI scrap yard on a recent frigid morning, he points out notable pieces sitting on top of the small metal hills. Beams that supported the former Ralph Engelstad Arena are among them, as well is a massive rebar pile from the recent Interstate 29 project.

Meanwhile, a new electric shear cut metal into smaller pieces, and rail cars were loaded nearby. Business slows down this time of year, Gibbs said, as the cold weather sets in.

RMI started in 1977 by Gibbs' grandpa, dad and uncle. They originally salvaged precious metals from old computer mainframes before expanding the business to include a variety of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. RMI has also started salvaging metal from cars.

While the business itself has changed over the years, the new state law won't change RMI's operations in a major way.

"We don't want to buy stolen stuff," Gibbs said. "We are trying to be as proactive as possible to not buy it."

Call Hageman at (701) 780-1244, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1244 or send email to jhageman@gfherald.com.