The news about Titus Mountain is pretty incredible.
As soon as I heard this, my thoughts were, “There has got to me more than one person involved.”
Plus, this crime takes place in a context that bears examining.
A former employee told police Zachary White showed him how to bypass National Grid power meters, using a special tool to open the electrical panel and pull fuses.
Can’t imagine this was the only employee that got a “lesson”.
Former Titus employee Stewart P. Sage Jr. of Malone told State Police investigators he worked at the ski center for 16 years and “observed illegal behavior regarding use of electricity.”
He said that, four years ago, White showed him how to pull the cover off the panel boxes at each of the four pump houses and use a plastic set of pliers to remove the three fuses inside.
“He told me he got the tool from an employee at Niagara Mohawk,” Sage told police.
The tool was stowed in White’s desk, along with extra power-company seals that are placed on an electrical box to prove it has not been tampered with since its last meter reading.
Very deliberate and routine activity here.
Anyone who live in the North Country is intimately familiar with energy needs and the respective fees associated with the various alternatives. Impossible to say that someone paying bills could not know about this. Especially over the course of 16 years.
Even the parent company should have known. Don’t know how long they’ve owned this place, but I’d think a full energy use audit would be required to make a purchase decision, plus ongoing vigilance to manage operational costs.
How was this discovered? Some arcane “measuring device” installed by National Grid? I hardly believe that. If they had this “device” installed and they were monitoring it, how could they have allowed the thievery to go on for such a long time? They only went back to those records after the alleged theft was “discovered”.
Sage said he was fired in November 2007 after asking White for a raise for himself and other workers.
Two days before an event where he knew the power would be turned-off routinely, Sage dropped a dime on Titus and informed National Grid of the anticipated crime.
I believe this was the event which revealed this decades-long crime. Not any “monitoring device” or investigation by National Grid. I would say that there must be some negligence at National Grid too. If you are in the business of selling electricity, then I would hope “loss prevention” would be high on the priority list. It makes me doubt my own electrical bill now.
What could drive a person or organization to do such a thing? Energy costs are simply a part of life in the North Country. You could say that we all work for the utilities in some way or other. I mean, we “work” to pay them. In any large enterprise, up here, energy costs will be one of the largest expenditures. Controlling that cost is as important as generating “new” revenue.
What your competitor is doing also matters. Titus’ live under the shadow of Whiteface Mountain. This is the former Olympic mountain now operated by ORDA. Taxpayer subsidized, and operating at a loss. Pretty tough competition if you’re a private business fighting in the same ring. Really tough. Tough enough that stealing electricity becomes a realistic business decision, wrong as it is. I don’t have time to get into the illegal dumping and waste issues.
As far as I know, Titus is also a ski area operating at the margin. Barely surviving. When your at the edge of a cliff, almost anything can look like a lifeline. Even crime.
There’s also a real estate angle. Slopeside properties were sold – ski in/ski out stuff. I’m sure they were valued higher due to their “prime” location. Given the small-town nature of the area – and the current scrutiny of the lending industry – I would wonder who was selling, appraising, and assessing these properties. Will the nearby property owners suffer? You bet. Their value just went south. Who’s been investing in property up there?
Is Titus considered “Economic Development”? I hope there is no Empire Zone or other tax subsidy going on up there.
In summary, this whole thing sucks. Lot’s of victims, many don’t even know it. My kids are really bummed because Titus was “their” ski area. Now my 6 year old says, “They were stealing electricity at Titus, aw maaaan!”