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Oct 24, 2011 6:23 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Highway Department Begins Task Of Replacing Stolen Street Signs

Oct 26, 2011 12:30 PM

The recent deluge of stolen street signs in Southampton Town has slowed to at trickle, allowing Highway Department officials time to start replacing the scores of signs that have gone missing over the past two months, mostly in the western end of the municipality.

Though more than 140 street signs were reported stolen over the past two months, Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said that figure has dropped drastically over the past two weeks. He did note, however, that a few signs on the eastern side of the Shinnecock Canal, specifically in Shinnecock Hills, have gone missing over that time.

Allen Farlow, a maintenance mechanic for the Highway Department for the past 34 years—and the only person charged with making the town’s road signs—said he is working as fast as he can to replace all of the stolen markers. He noted that one of the signs, the Bittersweet South Extension sign by the Capital One Bank on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, had to be replaced five times over eight weeks. Each sign costs about $60 to replace.

“We had 16 signs that were returned to the Highway Department’s driveway,” Mr. Gregor said. “Some of the signs were so new [that] they still had the wax pen markings on them from when Allen made them the week before.”

In addition to Bittersweet South Extension, the most popular signs being targeted by vandals—or, perhaps, those participating in scavenger hunts—are Penny Lane and Sandlewood Court, both of which are in Hampton Bays, according to the highway superintendent. “There is no rhyme or reason, as far as we can see, for which signs are being targeted,” Mr. Gregor added.

The Highway Department still does not know who has been stealing the signs. “Usually, signs are stolen between August and September for the kids who are going back to college to keep as a memento in their rooms,” Mr. Farlow said. “There is just too much of it this summer to be college kids.”

Both he and Mr. Gregor now think that the spike in thefts is due to people stealing the signs and selling them as scrap metal. Southampton Town Police said they are still investigating the rash of thefts.

Mr. Gregor explained that, for the most part, the signs are easy to steal, because the poles that hold them cannot be cemented into the ground due to State Department of Transportation regulations. “The pole must be able to easily be knocked out of the ground in case a car hits the pole,” he said.

And once the poles have been knocked down or yanked out of the ground, thieves have little trouble dislodging the signs, according to Mr. Farlow. He said thieves can remove the signs with a stick or by kicking them. Most times, highway crews find the poles themselves discarded nearby. But, in some cases, both the pole and sign go missing, Mr. Farlow said.

While driving in Hampton Bays earlier this month, a Highway Department foreman observed a street sign and pole in a residential backyard. Town Police were called to investigate, according to Mr. Gregor, who later added that he does not know if an arrest was ever made.

Things have gotten so bad in some areas of Hampton Bays that some residents are taking matters into their own hands, according to Mr. Gregor. “Residents have begun making their own handwritten street signs and hanging them on telephone poles,” he said. “They think we aren’t doing anything, but it takes time.”

To help reduce the number of stolen signs, the Highway Department is thinking of new ways to deter thieves. For example, the Penny Road sign has since been reinstalled on a nearby telephone pole, according to Mr. Gregor. He said his crews were going to do the same in other areas, but the utility company was going to start charging them for the privilege.

According to Mark Gross, a spokesman for the Long Island Power Authority, the utility typically charges a minimal fee—around $5 per pole, per year—if a municipality wants to utilize one of its utility poles in such a manner.

Mr. Gregor, meanwhile, stressed that the thieves could potentially endanger the lives of town residents.

“This can cause serious problems that people just don’t think about when they take the signs,” he added. “Missing signs can cause issues for emergency vehicles, visitors and tourists getting lost, and it can cause car accidents. That is a problem.”

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The 2 Surf St signs (between Neptune Ave and Seaside Ave) in Hampton Bays get stolen at least twice a year, usually within a couple of weeks after being replaced. This has been going on since I moved to Neptune Ave in 2002. You would think the town could figure out a different way to mount them so its not so easy to remove rather then spend time and tax payer money on a system that obviously doesn't work.
By BigL11946 (29), Hampton Bays on Oct 26, 11 1:05 PM
1 member liked this comment
Well, at least we know all these years it wasn't Southampton College kids, as was always alleged.
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Oct 26, 11 4:18 PM
Street signs are so out dated anyway it will give this guy something to do!!! And why are they paying a mechanic to play with stickers doesnt make any sense to me!!!
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on Oct 31, 11 10:30 PM
"has slowed to at trickle" Nice proofing folks!

Interesting that this article & the drama about SHTPD overtime budgets hit a week before the local elections. I wonder if the Cop Candidate had anything to do with that? A little pre-election hype & fear mongering?
By G (342), Southampton on Nov 1, 11 8:11 AM